How long does it take for neurofeedback to work?

This simple question has a simple answer that needs much elaboration–it is different for each person, and I find it quite difficult to predict who will begin to respond within a few sessions and who will take considerably longer.  The usual person needs 40-60 sessions of neurofeedback to make meaningful and lasting changes.  However, there are factors that might be under the control of person receiving neurofeedback that can augment or counter the effectiveness of neurofeedback.

One of the first things to think about is brain nutritional support.  A diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a variety of vegetables and fruits, and whole foods is much more likely to foster good brain health than one that consists of fast foods, sugar, and manufactured foods that contain dyes, preservatives, and other additives.  I agree with the notion that the foods that look most like their sources are generally the healthiest.  For instance, whole grain bread looks much more like grain than white bread.  A ragu dish looks more like unprocessed vegetables than a pizza with pepperoni and tomato sauce.

A healthy diet also makes it unnecessary to take most dietary supplements in an otherwise healthy person.  Fad diets based on the latest research “uncovering” a new superfood are silly.  There are many healthy foods and getting a good variety is most sensible.

There are a couple of exceptions.  With the use of sun screens and the decrease in outdoors activities, many people are Vitamin D deficient.  A simple blood test can detect this. If needed, supplements are usually taken once a day.  Readily available sources of omega-3 fatty acids may also be difficult to locate and might not appeal to some palates.  So supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids can be helpful for many people.

Another way to impede progress with neurofeedback is spending excessive time on “screens”.  I lump television, video gaming, and (non-work, non-school) computer/smart pad use in this category.   The way that most of us use media allows our brains to relax in a relatively unfocused way.  Think of a baby with a pacifier or an idling car.  Some amount of this is alright for most, but spending long periods of time in this state makes it habitual and difficult to break away.  Productive and engaged brain states become more difficult.  I usually recommend limiting screens to an hour or less a day.

Regular physical exercise is essential for the health of the brain.  It increases blood flow to the brain providing more nutrients and oxygen.  It speeds the removal of carbon dioxide and waste products.  Aerobic activity for a least a half an hour and at least 5 days a week can make positive changes happen faster.

Getting enough sleep is of vital importance.  Young children need up to 12 hours of sleep per night.  The average teenager needs 9-9 1/2 hours of sleep per night–not just on weekends!  Adults need an average of 7-7 1/2 hours of sleep per night.  Sleep research has shown that adequate sleep is vital for a variety of metabolic activities.  Inadequate sleep promotes poor focus, mood disorders, and cancer.

Following regular routines is quite helpful for the brain.  As it becomes expert at following certain procedures, they become more and more automatic to the point that you might get many things done while barely thinking about them.   For example, when most of us first learn to drive a car, we tend to overuse the accelerator and brake pedals, oversteer, and forget to use our mirrors and peripheral vision.  Once these skills have been practiced enough, we hardly notice that we have them.  It seems like my car drives itself to my office.  So make a conscious effort to make regular tasks follow set patterns and schedules to free up your energies and brainpower for more worthwhile activities.

Positive behavioral incentives can work wonders.  Catch yourself or your loved ones being good and pay attention to it.  We are too quick to criticize and punish.  Emphasize the positive and correct!