Entrainment is a phenomenon by which some external sensory stimulation synchronizes brainwaves differently than the native rhythm. The most obvious example of this is photic driving – during an EEG the subject will have a strobe light flashed before them at various frequencies. The purpose of this is to see if it will trigger seizure activity. In many normal subjects the brain wave rhythm in the occipital lobes, which is the visual part of the cortex, will match its frequency to the frequency of the strobe light. This specifically is called photic driving, but the phenomenon in general is called entrainment.
So does that mean that there are certain types of brainwaves that are better? The short answer to that question is that each brainwave has a different function. During the day, you might want to produce a certain kind of brainwave more frequently or during different times and activities. That requires a certain amount of control, flexibility, and resilience.
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.
Why is exposure to these soundwaves helpful to sleep and relaxation? Science shows that exposure to binaural beats can create changes in the brain’s degree of arousal. Listening to these sounds that create a low-frequency tone, research indicates, triggers a slow-down to brainwave activity—and that may help you relax, lower your anxiety, and can make it easier for you to fall asleep and sleep more soundly.
Delta (3hz – 0.2hz) – Deep, dreamless sleep. Intuition. Empathy. Brainwave expert Judith Pennington calls it the doorway to Universal Consciousness and “A radar that scans the environment and psychically picks up information and energy.” According to British physicist C. Maxwell Cade “There have been reports that delta waves appear at the onset of paranormal phenomena.” (More information can be found in Cade’s book The Awakened Mind)
Cvetkovic D, Simpson D, Cosic I (2006). “Influence of sinusoidally modulated visual stimuli at extremely low frequency range on the human EEG activity“. Conference proceedings : … Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. Conference 1: 1311 – 4. doi:10.1109
Going deeper into a trance-like state of meditation, you enter the mysterious Theta state where brain activity slows almost to the point of sleep, but not quite. Theta is one of the more elusive and extraordinary realms you can explore. It is also known as the twilight state which you normally only experience fleetingly upon waking, or drifting off to sleep.
Tracks that move from alpha to theta can be a perfect vehicle for transitioning from a hectic day into a relaxing and rejuvenating sleep. Beginning with alpha waves takes you into a light but still alert meditative mind state where the difficulties of the day can be resolved and put to rest. Later, theta waves go deeper into the unconscious, preparing you for sleep and dreams.
A crossover RCT of a single session of theta stimulation in four healthy adults reported no significant improvement in verbal fluency or attention associated with the intervention and a reduction in immediate recall. Controlled comparisons reported significant benefit from the intervention in all three outcomes measured. Six pre/post studies reported significant benefit from the intervention for 19 of 28 cognitive outcomes.
4. Be hesitant committing to any BWE system making wild claims. Profit fueled marketers with little to no experience in the BWE field have created a slew of low-quality entrainment systems on the market. These products typically make outrageous promises such as permanently enhancing the brain within minutes of use. Although BWE is a powerful method to improve the mind, it’s not a magic bullet.
Theta: This brainwave pattern is associated with deep relaxation and with some stages of sleep, including the lighter stages of non-REM (NREM) sleep. REM sleep itself is mostly composed of beta wave and other activity that’s similar to an alert, waking brain. Deep meditation produces theta waves, which are slower and lower frequency (between 5-8 hertz) than Alpha waves. That murky barrier between sleep and wakefulness, when you’re drifting in and out of sleep, and your thoughts feel dreamlike and difficult to remember? That’s a theta-dominant state of consciousness.
As somewhat of a modern mystic, I have studied altered states of consciousness, but due to my monkey mind, I have only been able to experience them to a very minor degree. I have tried so many methods of meditation to little avail. But I became aware that I would not be able to progress in my spiritual life if I could not achieve at least a modicum of success in meditation.
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.
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So to summarize their claim, they're saying that entrainment means that a binaural beat will cause your brain's electroencephalogram to match the pattern of the phantom beat. Well, if it did, entrainment certainly doesn't apply and would not be part of the equation, so we can scratch that off the list. But it doesn't make the claimed observation wrong. We do know that certain electroencephalogram waveforms are often associated with certain kinds of activity. For example, physical activity or REM sleep often produces an electroencephalogram with a sine wave of between 4 and 8 Hz, which we term a theta pattern. Waking relaxation with eyes closed often produces a pattern from 8 to 12 Hz, which is called an alpha pattern. There are only a few characterized patterns, and pretty general descriptions of what kinds of activities go with them. The claim made by the binaural beat sellers depends on much more granular and specific matches. For example, the claim that a binaural beat with a frequency of X produces the same effect in your brain as Vicodin is wholly implausible. Such claims presume that we know the exact frequency of the electroencephalogram in each of these desired conditions, and the fact is that brain waves don't work that way. It is wholly and absolutely implausible to say that desired brain condition X will occur if we get your EEG to read exactly X Hz.