There is a lot to like about this technology as a potential treatment for sleep problems. It’s low impact and non-invasive, it doesn’t rely on chemical drugs, it’s inexpensive and for most people likely easy to adopt and maintain. In this way, it’s similar to the other behavioral therapies for sleep that I like so much, including meditation and relaxation techniques, and other mind-body therapies.
During meditation, people often feel a sense of no space. Scientists investigating the effect of the meditative stateon Buddhist monk's brains have found that portions ofthe organ previously active become quiet, whilst pacified areas become stimulated. Using a brain imaging technique, Dr. Newberg and his team studied a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks as they meditated for approximately one hour. When they reached a transcendental high, they were asked to pull a kite string to their right, releasing an injection of a radioactive tracer. By injecting a tiny amount of radioactive marker into the bloodstream of a deep meditator, the scientists soon saw how the dye moved to active parts of the brain.
Binaural beats are a type of brain entrainment technology. Entrainment, by the way, is a fancy way of saying "matching". The beats influence your brainwaves, which in turn alter the states of your consciousness. They were first discovered in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove, but were considered a scientific oddity until 1973, when Gerald Oster published an article called, "Auditory Beats in the Brain". Oster's work offered new insights, as well as some laboratory findings, to Dove's research; hence, a revolution was started in the field of neurophysiology. Binaural beats are of interest to neurophysiologists investigating the sense of hearing.
Most wisdom traditions have employed methods that allow the subjects' brain waves to slow down such as meditation, [Hindu] kirtan, [Gregorian, Menzuma or Sufi] chanting, Hebrew davening, Native American drum circles and rain chants, Tibetan prayer bowls, and whirling dervishes and African trance dancing. The rhythm of these wisdom tradition technologies actually slows people's brain waves from their normal busy brain frequency we call Beta (13-30 cycles per second or Hz), to Alpha (8-13Hz) -- meditation, Theta (4-8Hz) -- deep relaxation and dreaming, and Delta (.5-4Hz) -- slow wave or dreamless sleep.
Other entrainment methods sometimes used include autopan modulation that moves sound in an 180º arc to create a desired tone. Harmonic box entrainment, invented by James Mann, uses a layering of binaural and monaural tones that alternate between ears, requiring headphones. Sound modulation and filtering, amplitude modulation, and pitch panning use diverse sounds to create rhythmic pulses matched to the desired brainwave frequency.
In the last two posts, I discussed some unusual ways in which some people respond to certain very ordinary sounds. In the case of ASMR, sounds like tapping, tearing, and popping can lead to tingling sensations associated with relaxation and even drowsiness. In the case of misophonia similar sounds, like swallowing and lip-smacking, can also cause a tingling sensation, but one accompanied by disgust and even rage. Binaural beats are a different kind of sound and many people report finding certain of them relaxing and even conducive to falling asleep. Other people do not like them and after hearing them once never want to hear them again.
Joseph Kao, creator of Profound Releasing, Profound Renewal, and Sound Asleep, is a hypnotherapist and a solution-focused therapist with a private practice in Cambridge, UK. Joe was the co-developer of an acclaimed course on conversational hypnosis, and he regularly teaches hypnotherapy and psychotherapy to other therapists. He has also been the head scriptwriter for over 800 professional hypnotherapy recordings. Joe was drawn to the world of philosophy, meditation, and brainwave entrainment technology from an early age, and he’s had a daily meditation practice since 1998.
One RCT (n=108) showed significant reduction in anxiety from a single session of alpha/delta therapy for day surgery patients. A crossover RCT of a single session of theta stimulation in four healthy adults reported significant improvement from the intervention in one of five measures. Five pre/post studies reported significant benefit from the intervention for 16 of 27 outcomes.
For example, if a 530 Hz pure tone is presented to a subject's right ear, while a 520 Hz pure tone is presented to the subject's left ear, the listener will perceive the auditory illusion of a third tone, in addition to the two pure-tones presented to each ear. The third sound is called a binaural beat, and in this example would have a perceived pitch correlating to a frequency of 10 Hz, that being the difference between the 530 Hz and 520 Hz pure tones presented to each ear.
Binaural beats were the first method discovered for brainwave entrainment and works by delivering tones of different audible frequencies to the two ears with the difference in frequency between the two tones being the frequency of entrainment. The difference in frequency between the two tones must be less than 30 hertz, and this resulting frequency is called a beat or the target frequency, and it is processed in a brain region called the olivary body. When listening to such tones with stereo headphones, the two hemispheres of the brain become synchronized at the target frequency.
So, in summary, binaural beats certainly do not work the way the sellers claim, but there's no reason to think they're any less effective than any other music track you might listen to that effects you in a way you like. If they make you sleepy (like they all do for me), use them to go to sleep. If they relax you or get you amped, use them for that. But don't expect them to be any more effective than regular music. If someone you know claims that they are, put them to the test, and bust the myth.
Other research by Paul Ekman, of the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, suggests that meditation and mindfulness can tame the amygdala, an area of the brain which is the hub of fear memory. Ekman discovered that experienced Buddhists were less likely to be shocked, flustered, surprised or as angry as other people. Flanagan believes that if the findings of the studies can be confirmed they could be of major importance.
Uses of audio with embedded binaural beats that are mixed with music or various pink or background sound are diverse. They range from relaxation, meditation, stress reduction, pain management, improved sleep quality, decrease in sleep requirements, super learning, enhanced creativity and intuition, remote viewing, telepathy, and out-of-body experience and lucid dreaming. Audio embedded with binaural beats is often combined with various meditation techniques, as well as positive affirmations and visualization.
The objectives and inclusion criteria of the review were clear. Relevant sources were searched for studies, although the restriction to published studies in English meant that the review was prone to publication and language biases. The authors did not state whether steps were taken to minimise the risk of bias and error in the processes of study selection and data extraction (for example, by having more than one reviewer independently make decisions). The authors mentioned which studies were blinded, but it did not appear that study validity was systematically assessed, which made it difficult to judge the reliability of the review findings. The decision to combine studies by narrative synthesis appeared appropriate given the strong clinical heterogeneity between the studies, but the authors failed to quantify the size or statistical significance of the findings reported. The evidence presented appeared to justify the authors’ conclusions that further research was justified, but in view of the dearth of good-quality evidence and problems with methodology and reporting in the review, the conclusions regarding efficacy did not appear reliable.
It has been scientifically verified that if you consistently listen to binaural beats, for example, that are beating between 7hz-13hz, your brain will naturally tune in to that hz level and bring you to the alpha level (which as mentioned at the beginning is roughly between 7hz-13hz). This is called frequency following response or brainwave entrainment*. Taking it a step further, if you listen to binaural beats that are between 4hz-7hz your brain will adjust to the theta level, and you may experience deep meditation, or lucid dreaming (dreaming while conscious), or even astral projection (when you listen to the binaural beats daily, giving your brain time to build new neuro pathways). By listening to binaural beats that are below 4z you may totally zone out and lose all body awareness as you plung into the delta level. Or, to improve memory, binaural beats are made at about the 16hz-24hz range (well into the beta range). And so on and so forth.
From a brainwave entrainment effectiveness perspective, it’s my understanding that the response from isochronic tones stimulation starts to diminish over 30Hz and that 40Hz is about the limit for using them. So from what I’ve read on the topic a 100Hz beat wouldn’t work, probably because it’s too fast for the brain to process and synchronise with it.
In addition to potentially boosting sleep-promoting hormones, binaural beats may also reduce our perceptions of pain. A 2017 study found binaural beats used in combination with visual stimulation led to reductions in patients’ perception of acute pain. Other recent research showed binaural beats helped improve pain perception in patients with chronic pain.
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Most of these websites give some brief explanation of entrainment. The example you hear most often is that of Dutch polymath Christiaan Huygens, who in 1665, hung two pendulum clocks next to each other on a wall. He noticed that the pendulums eventually matched each others' frequency, but always in antiphase, opposite to each other, as if canceling each other out. He'd try disturbing one or setting them in sync, but they'd always return to the same antiphase synchronization. Huygen's experience is widely touted on binaural beat websites as a demonstration of how systems can become spiritually connected through some energy field. However, they misunderstand what happened, and have not read the full story. Huygens also tried taking one clock off the wall, and as soon as they were no longer physically connected to one another via the actual wall, the effect disappeared. It was not the proximity of the clocks to one another that created the entrainment; it was their physical, mechanical connection to one another. As each pendulum swung it imparted an infinitesimal equal and opposite reaction to the wall itself. With two clocks on the wall, the system naturally sought the lowest energy level, according to the laws of thermodynamics; and both pendulums would thus swing exactly counter to each other, minimizing the system's total energy.