What are Binaural Beats and do They Actually Work?
You’ve had a busy day at work. You’re mentally exhausted. You return home, plug in your earphones and play your favorite music. Half an hour into it, you come back feeling better, relaxed and energized.
We’ve all been there. Right?
For generations, people have alluded to the benefits of music to control stress and anxiety, to enhance concentration and to boost memory. Of late, there’s also been talk about the use of binaural beats for various health reasons.
Are binaural beats the same as listening to music? The word “beats” probably hints at a connection with music. While that interpretation could be partially true, there is a science behind it. Let’s find out more.
What are Binaural Beats?
Binaural beats are a type of sound wave therapy. These beats are simple sound frequencies. Available in the form of audio recordings, they help rewire the brain to alter and achieve a desired state of mind, whether it involves inducing sleep or improving focus.
How does this happen? The justification is that when the left and right ear are exposed to similar sounds differing in frequency, the brain perceives it as a single frequency. This single tone is the differential between the two frequencies. The brain adjusts to the new frequency, to be more accurate it mimics the new frequency.
For instance, if the left ear records a sound of 210 Hz and the right ear registers a sound frequency of 220 Hz, it produces a binaural beat of 10 Hz. Using binaural beats is like tricking the brain with an auditory illusion.
Also known as binaural sounds, these beats are imaginary beats (they are not heard) your brain perceives when tones of varying frequency are combined.
When this happens, your brain tunes in with the frequency of this binaural beat and thereby alter the present state of consciousness. For this reason, binaural beats have often been compared to tuning forks in the way the work.
How Does the Brain Work?
Binaural beats are closely linked to brainwaves. Therefore, to understand how they work and their effectiveness, one must first know how the brain works.
The brain is wired, literally. And, there are billions of nerve cells called neurons making up this electric circuitry. Their main function is to transmit, process and receive information along with nerve networks.
This happens at insanely high speeds. When these neurons get excited, they produce electrical signals. The electrical signals generated are measured using electroencephalograms or EEGs.
Scientists discovered that the brain generates frequencies called brainwaves. They also noted variations in these wave-like patterns depending on the state of emotional or physical activity.
Higher brainwave frequencies were associated with states of higher alertness and activity while lower frequencies were observed during periods of sleep or rest. Research in the field has identified the following major types of brainwaves.
These brainwaves have the lowest frequency, between 0.5 Hz to 4Hz. The Delta wave patterns are produced in a state of dreamless sleep; there is no active dreaming.
They are also associated with meditation and regenerative sleep. The Delta waves release anti-aging hormones that restore and heal the body, physically. They also help reduce physical pain and support emotional healing.
Theta brainwave patterns fall in a range between 4-8 Hz. They are associated with states of meditation, relaxation and REM sleep. REM sleep refers to a state where you may have fallen off to sleep, but are still conscious of the happenings around.
Thus, these are the dominant brainwaves when you’re drifting in and out of sleep. Theta waves have several benefits including calming anxiety, decreasing pain, inducing sleep and relaxation, improving creativity and memory recall, and heightened perception.
When the brain moves from a state of unconsciousness to consciousness, it generates Alpha brainwaves. They are higher in frequency than Theta waves averaging a frequency between 9 and 14 Hz. The person is in a relaxed state, aware of the present.
The person is focused and alert. This is a highly desirable state. These low frequency wave patterns are recorded when completing routine tasks such as cooking, gardening, meditating, or watching a film that requires one to be altered but not overactive.
Other benefits include enhanced creativity, better concentration and focus, improved memory retention and stress alleviation.
Beta brainwaves are characterized by faster, higher frequencies. They have frequencies of 14 to 38 Hz. Beta waves are produced when the mind is in a highly active state. It is highly focused and alert.
They are responsible for improved cognitive skills –logic and reasoning, problem-solving ability, critical thinking, and enhanced long-term memory. They also enhance mood. On the higher end of the scale, they could cause feelings of anxiety, excitement, and insomnia.
The gamma brainwaves are the fastest of all. This pattern has a signal frequency of 38 to 42 Hz. Accounting for the highest frequency range, one would expect a person with gamma brainwaves dominating to be hyperactive. But that is not the case.
It is a state of heightened perception, a kind of spiritual awakening. They are also related to states of higher intelligence, memory, problem solving and concentration. Not all can access gamma; it is mostly the long-term meditators who can achieve this state.
Now that we have discussed the varied brainwave patterns resulting from information transmission between neurons, we are aware of the states of mind associated with a particular type of brainwave. Our brainwaves dictate our emotional state and our ability to do something at any given point of time.
Using binaural beats correctly thus involves getting the brain to produce a brainwave of the desired frequency. So, if you are sick and in pain, and would like to induce sleep and relaxation, you should target a lower frequency differential when listening to binaural beats.
Likewise, if you want to feel alert, focussed and energized, a higher difference in frequency such as the alpha and beta patterns might be what you need.
Do Binaural Beats Actually Work?
The answer to that is yes. There is a lot of research that proves the effectiveness of binaural beats. To put it in a sentence, the entrainment process optimizes all major brain functions. Some of the benefits are listed below:
Getting 6-8 hours of restful sleep is important if the body is to preserve its health and well-being. The body repairs itself when at rest. You must have observed that on days when you haven’t slept well, you feel exhausted and moody. You are also unproductive.
Binaural beats can help you get a better night’s sleep. Listening to beats in a lower frequency range, for instance, the theta and delta brainwaves dominant in sleep and meditative states calms an overactive mind.
Thus, it can help you fall asleep more soundly. So, if you suffer from insomnia and are looking for assistance with sleep issues, you might want to consider binaural beats.
Binaural beat therapy is also recommended as a self-help tool to keep stress and anxiety in check. Binaural beats in the 3-8 Hz frequency range have helped alleviate symptoms of mild anxiety, thereby improving their quality of life.
Research has also been conducted to study the effect of binaural beats in patients scheduled for surgeries. After administering 30-minute entrainment sessions daily, researchers note that the level of anxiety recorded in these patients was lower than their counterparts who hadn’t listened to binaural beats.
Although effective, binaural beats are not a substitute for conventional anxiety treatment. It should only be used as a supplementary, self-help measure.
Stress has become a part and parcel of life. Be it studies or work, we are caught up in a state of constant physical and emotional pressures. If you are feeling tired and overwhelmed, engaging in brainwave entrainment might be the answer.
Binaural beats transport you to another world, blocking out the negative and unnecessary mind chatter. The tranquillity you experience lets you relax. Gradually, one learns how to control stress before it gets the better of them.
Ever tried meditation? If you don’t practice meditation daily, you notice that all your thoughts and worries come rushing back to you when you sit down to meditate. It is easy to get distracted and lost.
A binaural beat recording can help you settle into a deep meditative state. The sounds in the audio recording refocus the mind, taking it off the worries. They lower the brainwave frequency and thereby assist in achieving a meditative state faster.
But at the same time, it leads to a heightened sense of self awareness. Practicing meditation relaxes the mind, reduces stress, improves mood and also increases productivity. And, enhancing the meditation practice, can help you get the best experience.
Does your mind wander when you sit down to work? Do you spend time doing silly, simple activities rather than completing the job in hand? And, then swear by that cup of coffee to get you through the day.
Lack of focus and attention makes one unproductive; it impacts one’s ability to complete tasks in a time-bound manner. In the case of studies, it could also result in lower retention capacity. It is normal for the mind to get distracted from jobs that are difficult, challenging and demand a lot of brainpower.
Meditation helps redirect the mind but is not recommended when you have to work and need to be active and alert. This is where binaural beats come in.
The high frequency alpha and beta brainwaves shift the mind into a state of mindfulness – a state where one is fully aware of the present. It enhances concentration. Thus, listening to binaural beats could be a great addition to a study routine.
Listening to Binaural beats optimizes brain functions. Thus, it settles your mind and improves cognitive function. Higher levels of concentration ensure that you learn better. This automatically enhances a person’s recall ability.
Studies have shown that the use of binaural beats has benefitted both long-term and short-term memory. However, the frequencies used for each were different. People that used beats in the Beta range displayed improvements in long-term memory. On the contrary, the lower frequency theta binaural beats boosted short-term, verbal memory.
The best thing that listening to binaural beats does is that it relaxes the mind and gets rid of the tension and all those negative thoughts. You sleep well and wake up energized. You concentrate better. You realize you are more creative. You get more work done. All this creates a positive attitude and results in a better mental disposition.
Mental health has a significant bearing on physical health. By ridding the mind of stress and anxiety, it creates a sense of mental well-being. Binaural beats also help activate the body’s natural healing system.
People with chronic pain can get relief listening to theta beats in the range between 4-8 Hz. Along with alleviating physical pain, it also reduces pain perception.
For long, artists of all kinds have used music to stimulate the creative centers of the brain. Binaural beats have shown to improve cognition, learning, and memory.
Studies using binaural beats in the alpha and gamma range prove that it supports the creative process as it promotes divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is the ability to come with original ideas and work through multiple solutions for a problem.
These and many more benefits only prove that binaural beats actually work.
Do Binaural Beats Work without Headphones?
Headphones are essential when listening to binaural beats. This is because during an entrainment session each ear is exposed to a sound of a different frequency. It is not possible without a pair of headphones. Therefore, those trying to tune the brain using binaural beats should invest in a pair of good quality stereo headphones.
There are two kinds of headphones: the close and open kind. The closed design, with their sealed cups, cancels all external sounds. They also prevent sound leakage, which means that others won’t be able to hear what you are listening to. Hence, they are the preferred option for an optimum experience.
There are other requirements for a fruitful binaural beat entertainment session. There’s a need for a music system or MP3 player. You will also need a tape with binaural beats. Every tape producer lists specific instructions. Users should follow the instructions strictly.
Nowadays, there are apps available for the same. They dispense with the need for a music player as they can be operated from a tablet or a smartphone. The advantage of working with an app is that you can select the input frequency or the desired state of mind at the click of a single button.
How to Listen to Binaural Beats Correctly?
If you want to get the best out of every session, there are few steps to follow to ensure you get it right.
Prepare the Mind:
You need to tune your mind for what is to happen. The mind should be free of all kinds of distractions. Choose a quiet, isolated place to achieve a state of mindfulness. Turn off your phone or keep it away. If you must, let people know that you will be unavailable for a given period of time. Use noise cancelling headphones to block any further distractions.
If possible, try to listen to the binaural beats in a natural setting, by the side of a lake or in a garden. It will help you relax and settle the mind. If you still find your mind wandering, close your eyes and do some breathing exercises. Focus on the rise and fall of your breath.
Get into the Position:
The traditional meditation pose is considered ideal when listening to binaural beats. Those who experience difficulty sitting cross-legged, can choose to sit or lie down. When sitting, sit erect; don’t slouch. Lie flat on your bed. It is imperative to settle into a position that is most comfortable.
The Best Time:
Avoid listening to binaural beats for relaxation if you are to engage in an activity that requires a high level of alertness or demands full attention such as driving or operating a piece of machinery.
Binaural beats relax and clear the mind. It might affect the brain’s ability to think and act in mentally demanding situations. The ideal time is before bedtime after you wake up or during meditation. The best time to listen is also determined by what you plan to do – do you want to sleep, study or lucid dream.
Adjust the Volume:
The recording should be set to the correct volume, neither too loud nor too soft. Given that you will be listening to the recording for a prolonged duration, loud volumes can cause damage to the ears. Set it at a level that allows you to hear the pulsing vibrations of the sound while also blocking disturbing environmental sounds.
People often ask – for how long should one listen to binaural beats? The brain takes around 7 minutes to match the audio stimulus. Hence, experts recommend 15-30 minutes of listening time, daily. It should be continued for a minimum of a month for one to notice the benefits.
Binaural beat packages are dime a dozen. You may have to try different frequencies to know which one works for you. The best way to decide is to observe how you feel while and after listening to the sound. You can filter your search based on the effect you want to achieve. It is also important to choose good quality binaural beats.
Before you buy one, do a bit of research. Lookup Google. Read reviews to check what other users have to say about a specific reading.
One needs to be patient when using binaural beats. Different people might react differently to the sounds they hear, including the time taken to see results. You will have to keep tweaking what you do, adjusting volume and blending frequencies.
Can Binaural Beats Damage your Brain?
Safety is a common concern when trying a new therapy or drug. People worry about the adverse effects of listening to binaural beats for extended durations. Binaural beats are safe as it does include taking any oral medication, and tests conducted show that their use has only realized positive results.
Binaural beats alter the brainwaves but do not cause any damage to them. The changes in brainwave patterns are also temporary. However, since binaural beats interfere with the brainwaves, they should be avoided by select groups as a safety precaution. It includes:
- People who suffer from seizures or epilepsy. It might happen that entraining a brainwave could trigger a seizure.
- Those with a history of mental illness.
- Those recovering from a brain injury.
- Those diagnosed with cardiovascular issues or people fitted with pacemakers.
- Pregnant women and children.
Persons diagnosed with anxiety disorders should steer clear of higher frequency brainwaves, for instance, the beta brainwaves as they could aggravate anxiety. While otherwise relatively safe, it is advised that a person consult a doctor or a medical professional before using binaural beats in any form.
The Bottom Line
Your brainwaves dictate how you feel and what you are most capable of doing at any given point of time. The ability to entrain them ensures that you can get rid of potentially negative mental states restoring them with healthy, helpful psychological states.
The benefits of binaural beats are many from making you feel good about improving cognitive function. There is a lot of research backing up these claims. What’s more. They are easy to use. Not just that, they can be easily incorporated into one’s daily routine. And with no known side effects, you have nothing to lose.
So, choose your binaural beat recordings with care and guarantee yourself the best results.