Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback that teaches self-regulation of brain function by measuring brainwaves and providing a feedback signal. Traditionally, neurofeedback devices use electroencephalography (EEG) sensors on the scalp that measure the sensitive electrical activity of the brain. Using advanced software, this activity is then read and interpreted on the device into individual brainwave frequencies.
These frequencies, such as alpha, beta, or theta brainwaves, are associated with certain mental or behavioral states. For instance, alpha brain waves are commonly associated with a quiet internal state or relaxation, while beta is associated with active mental states like thinking.1 The patterns of these frequencies are provided to the patient in the form of feedback, which can be auditory, visual, or tactile in nature. The brain can then learn from the information it is given to organize itself with more efficient and healthy brainwave patterns.
What is neurofeedback helpful for?
Over time, it’s possible to recondition brainwaves with neurofeedback training to durably improve brain function through a process known as neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the innate capacity of the brain to form new neural connections and pathways. Accumulating evidence suggests that neurofeedback can be used for cognitive enhancement or to treat a variety of disorders, including:
- Learning Disabilities
- Brain Injuries
- Seizure Disorders1
Options for neurofeedback at home
If you are interested in getting the benefits of neurofeedback without having to go to a practitioner’s office, there are a few options for you to consider. These options range from doctor-assisted remote devices to devices you can use on your own without the assistance of a practitioner.
1. Linear neurofeedback devices
Linear neurofeedback refers to the first generation of training systems that rely on protocol-driven programs and the skills of a neurofeedback clinician. Neurofeedback protocols utilize a mechanism known as operant conditioning. This training involves rewarding increases or decreases in certain target brainwave frequencies depending on the brainwave patterns of the patient.2 Protocols for the patient are set up with the help of a brain map, or QEEG (Quantitative EEG). The QEEG provides an initial assessment of the existing brainwave patterns of the client, so as to learn what brainwave frequencies in a given location are dysfunctional and need improving.2
For instance, if the patient is showing excessive fast frequencies like beta in the front of the brain, these patterns can be dialed down over time to decrease symptoms like anxiety or insomnia if they occur at night. With persistent training, coaching, and practice, individuals can learn to optimize their brain activity to approach more adaptive and healthier brainwave patterns. To view trends and assess progress, client reports and mapping results are checked by a neurofeedback clinician from session to session. For this reason, they are more often found in an office setting, although it can be done remotely. Linear systems also tend to be more expensive and less user-friendly for home use.
2. Non-linear (dynamical) neurofeedback devices
Nonlinear, or dynamical neurofeedback refers to the second-generation neurofeedback devices developed in the early 2000s—in tandem with advances in the field of neuroplasticity. These devices are designed to provide the brain with real-time, continual information on what it has just done through auditory feedback. Like holding a mirror up to the brain, the feedback signal nudges the brain with subtle adjustments to its own activity millisecond by millisecond. This allows the brain to interact adaptively with itself to rebalance dysfunctional brainwave patterns.
After the patient has placed the EEG sensors and started the software, neurofeedback training with these devices is fully automated. That is to say, the efforts of the client or clinician are not required, and no initial brain map is needed. For this reason, non-linear neurofeedback is a good choice for neurofeedback training at home and tends to be less expensive and laborious to use compared to linear systems.
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3. EEG headwear
Commercially available headbands and headsets have become an increasingly popular option for neurofeedback at home. These devices are used to train emotional and attentional control and can optimize cognitive performance over repeated training.3 The devices utilize 4-6 EEG electrodes that read brainwave activity on the front and sides of the scalp. For EEG headbands, the USB port on the device also allows the addition of another EEG sensor that can be placed on the center of the head for a more accurate reading of brainwave patterns.
EEG headwear integrates a reward system that provides positive reinforcement to the user when they have nudged their brainwaves in a more optimal direction towards a target range. These devices are often used to enhance meditation to improve stress resilience and relaxation. In neurofeedback-enhanced meditation, real-time feedback may come in the form of a sound to signal whether the user’s mind is calm or wandering into thoughts.4
Some EEG headband apps use feedback in the form of specialized games or videos, so when the user’s brain waves are in an optimal range they will advance in the game or the video will become more clear. More recently, EEG headbands have been integrated with virtual reality (VR) goggles, so consumers can see a reflection of their brainwave patterns and use that information to drive the VR experience.
4. EEG glasses
EEG glasses are a new development in the neurofeedback space that combine dry EEG sensors with wearable glasses. These devices are used to train attention and concentration by providing visual feedback to the wearer, and so may be effective for users struggling with symptoms of ADHD such as distractibility and inattention.5
When the eyewear detects brain waves that indicate a drifting of attention, the lenses darken. On the other hand, when the wearer is attentive (to reading or another task), the lenses clear up, letting them get back on task with optimal focus. These devices use multiple sensors—one behind each ear and one on the top of the head.
The convenience of neurofeedback at home
Neurofeedback at home offers many advantages to conventional neurofeedback therapy in the clinic. The flexibility of home-based neurofeedback allows the client to design an optimal training schedule around their needs and responsibilities. In-office visits may occur only 2-3 times per week at a maximum. On the other hand, at-home training can happen on your own time with more consistent efforts each week for maximum benefits. Commercially available wearable devices are designed to be highly usable in everyday contexts, trading clinical-grade precision for convenience and usability.
In addition, home neurofeedback is unparalleled in its ease of use and efficiency. For instance, fully automated nonlinear systems are a safe and easy way to leverage the same benefits as in-office neurofeedback systems but in the comfort of one’s own home. Accordingly, these devices are known to be significantly less expensive than clinical neurofeedback devices, with the simplest of wearables starting at just a few hundred dollars. The top-of-the-line training systems for home use can run over $7,000, but many providers offer the possibility of renting equipment for a reasonable monthly fee, all the while offering the same training and efficacy as office-based neurofeedback.
1. Hammond, D.C. What is Neurofeedback: An Update. Journal of Neurotherapy, 15, no. 4 (2011): 305-336.
2. Vernon, D., T. Egner, et al. The effect of training distinct neurofeedback protocols on aspects of cognitive performance. International Journal of Psychophysiology 47, no. 1 (2003): 75–85.
3. Peake, J. M., G. Kerr, & J.P. Sullivan, J. P. A Critical Review of Consumer Wearables, Mobile Applications, and Equipment for Providing Biofeedback, Monitoring Stress, and Sleep in Physically Active Populations. Frontiers in Physiology 9 (2018): 743.
4. Hunkin, H., D.L. King, & I.T. Zajac. EEG Neurofeedback During Focused Attention Meditation: Effects on State Mindfulness and Meditation Experiences. Mindfulness 12 (2021): 841–851.
5. Van Doren, J., M. Arns, et al. Sustained effects of neurofeedback in ADHD: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European Child Adolescent Psychiatry 28, no. 3 (2019): 293-305.