Binaural beats is a scientific method that helps you go from alert to relaxed to asleep within minutes by using a process to alter your brainwaves. Sounds like something straight out of a science fiction novel, but binaural beats are a very real and very effective way to help you sleep.
Your alertness is linked to the dominant frequency of your brainwaves. So if you’re feeling alert and focused, your brainwaves are in the beta frequency If you’re feeling relaxed, they’re in the alpha state.
To sleep, your brainwave frequency needs drop to a slow delta. This can be hard, especially after a busy day. Your brain stays alert, preventing you from relaxing.
By using binaural beats, you can quickly induce the frequencies associated with sleep in your brain within minutes. Scientists discovered that the brain synchronises itself to a dominant frequency. So by inducing a new lower frequency with binaural beats, your brain begins to lower its own frequency to match this new frequency.
The method of inducing a brainwave frequency is called brainwave entrainment. It’s a powerful technology that I’ve been using myself for years with very good results.
Binaural beats aren’t the only way to produce brainwave entrainment but they’re probably the most popular. There’s a range of binaural beats for sleep available to purchase. They’re cheap, effective and all you need to is relax and listen to them through stereo headphones.
How Binaural Beats Work
Your brain enters into several different states during the day with each of these states generating its own unique frequency. These are:
- Beta (13 – 40 Hz) – Active, alert and focused
- Alpha (8 -12 Hz) – Relaxed, calm and creative
- Theta (4 – 8 Hz) – drowsy, light sleep and dreams
- Delta (less than 4 Hz) – Deep sleep
So to get to sleep, you need to go all way down to theta, touching delta. Sleep experts recommend a wind down period of at least half an hour before you go to bed for this very reason, to allow your mind’s frequency to begin its decent.
Essentially, the faster we can get to theta and delta, the faster and easier it will be to relax and fall asleep.
Brainwave entrainment is a method to alter the frequency of your brainwaves by listening to audible tones containing the desired frequency. So if you want to sleep, you would listen to audio that begins at your current frequency and slowly descends to a delta frequency. By introducing these new lower frequencies, your mind begins to lower its own brainwaves to match this new frequency.
However we humans generally can’t hear anything below 20Hz, so listening to a normal 20Hz tone would be useless. Binaural beats offers a novel way of producing these lower tones not through our ears, but directly inside our brain.
Binaural beats is a method where two sound waves of different frequencies are introduced into each ear. These frequencies when processed by the brain cancel each other out, creating a whole new frequency. So if we had a tone of 500 Hz in one ear and a 510 Hz tone in the other, the result would be a 10 Hz tone. So while a 10 Hz tone couldn’t be directly heard, using binaural beats we can create that tone inside our brain.
Scientific Research on Binaural Beats
Brainwave Entrainment as we know it today is a product of modern science. Published studies have shown the huge affect binaural beats have on influencing our state of consciousness.
A Brief History
Brainwave Entrainment has been used possibly as far back as 200AD, where Ptolemy of the Ancient Greeks noted the effect of flicking sunlight created by a spinning wheel. The first recorded clinical application was by a French psychologist, who again used a spinning wheel but this time illuminated with a lantern instead of the sun. He noted that his patients appeared calmer when they looked into the flickering light, so he used it as a relaxation technique whenever it was needed.
The first concrete research into brainwave entrainment was done after 1929 when the EEG was developed, a machine that can measure the frequency of brainwaves. These findings were able to confirm that brainwave entrainment is indeed real and that it affects the whole brain, not just areas responsible for hearing.
Binaural beats were first discovered in 1839. The effects of using audio instead of light for brainwave entrainment were noted in 1959. Oster’s research paper in 1973 brought attention to the use of binaural beats in a medical setting and this inspired a range of studies in the 1980s indicating very positive findings. The effects of brainwave entrainment using binaural beats has become of a hot topic of research ever since but despite their reported successes, they have never quite shook off the sometimes negative connotations of being an “alternative medicine”.
Binaural beats have been proven to be beneficial with a huge range of psychological and physiological ailments including managing pain, improving mood, and enhancing learning in classrooms. Most notably for us, they have been shown to be very effective at helping us sleep.
One of the first pieces of research into using binaural beats as a sleeping aid was In a paper called “Tests of the Sleep Induction Technique” published in 1975 by Dr Arthur Hastings. He noted the effects of subjects who listened to a tape containing binaural beats starting from beta slowly descending to delta. Using an EEG machine he was able to monitor the subject’s brainwaves as they listened to the tape, becoming increasingly relaxed before falling asleep. He concluded; “patterns in the various stages suggested that the tape was influencing the subject’s state”.
Pilot studies reported in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine and the Journal of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine published in January 2001 and February 2007 respectively, showed binaural beats caused a “significant reduction” in the anxiety of their subjects.
The July 2005 edition of the medical journal Anaesthesia reported on a study that examined whether binaural beats can reduce anxiety in patients before surgery. It found that patients who listened to the binaural beats had decreased their anxiety by 26.3%, way above compared to the reported placebo effect of 3.8%.
In September 2008 researchers examined the outcome of 20 different binaural beat studies in their paper A Comprehensive Review of the Psychological Effects of Brainwave Entrainment. They concluded “findings to date suggest that BWE is an effective therapeutic tool”.
Alternatives to Binaural Beats
Binaural beats are not the only technology that can be used for brainwave entrainment. Also available are monaural beats, isochronic tones and audio visual stimulation.
These are very similar to binaural beats, except that instead of the audio being fed through two different channels containing two different tones, monaural beats put both tones together on a single channel. The difference is that instead of your brain producing the effect of cancelling out the wave and producing the low frequency beat, it instead mixes in the air where it is perceived by the ears, with no brain processing involved.
Advocates claim that monaural beats are quicker since they can be heard directly and so don’t need to be processed by the brain, but there is no scientific research confirming this.
Monaural tones can be created by playing binaural beats through speakers instead of headphones or earphones.
These consist of a single tone that turns on and off to create a beat. The rate of which it turns on and off constitutes its frequency, much like flickering light.
Advocates like to claim these are the more modern and improved version of binaural beats, and often charge an inflated price tag as a result, but published scientific research into isochronic tones is near non existent.
What’s more is that many people find the beat of isochronic tones to be annoying and hard to relax to. There have also been some concerns as to whether Isochronic tones can entrain to the lower frequencies.
I would recommend avoiding these until science can shed light on their effectiveness.
Audio Visual Stimulation (AVS)
This technique combines flickering light and binaural beats (or other entrainment audio technology) both operating at the same frequency to produce the desired effect.
A lot of research has been done into audio visual entrainment, and it is reported to be extremely effective at treating a range of psychological and physiological disorders. Just how effective it is compared with just listening to binaural beats alone is not yet known.
This method is much more expensive than audio alone, but consumer devices are available. They are not recommended to people who are prone to seizures.
* * *
Brainwave entrainment through binaural beats is a powerful way to alter your brainwaves and induce deep sleep. Perfect if your mind is full of thoughts, you’re suffering with any anxiety or you just want to get to sleep fast. And unlike sleep medication, they’re completely natural and the quality of your sleep is likely to increase with use, not decrease.
If you’re interested in trying them out for yourself, I’ve reviewed a range of binaural beats for sleep to help you choose the best ones. Many of the binaural beats MP3s come with a money back guarantee so you won’t lose anything by giving them a go.
It’s not an all in one solution to insomnia. You’ll still need good sleep habits and have a comfortable environment to sleep in. But if you want to give your sleep an added boost, binaural beats could be just what you’re looking for.