What are binaural beats and how do they work?
The binaural auditory beat that a person hears is the difference in frequency between the left and the right ear and should be at frequencies lower than 1000 hertz (Hz) for the brain to detect the binaural beat.
For example, if the left ear registers a tone at 200 Hz and the right at 210 Hz, the binaural beat heard is the difference between the two frequencies — 10 Hz.
- Proponents of binaural beats therapy liken the effect to that of meditation.
- Binaural beats therapy is a self-help audio technology that is available to buy worldwide.
- There is a range of binaural beats available, each having a specific purpose.
- People should use binaural beats therapy when there are no distractions.
- More research is needed, but there is some existing research to support its use.
How do binaural beats work?
Binaural beats therapy requires a person to listen to different sound frequencies for a set amount of time, without any distractions, and in a comfortable space.
Research has shown that when a person listens to binaural beats for a recommended time, their levels of arousal change.
Researchers believe these changes occur because the binaural beats activate specific systems within the brain. An electroencephalogram (EEG) that recorded the electrical brain activity of people listening to binaural beats showed that the effect on a person's body varied according to the frequency pattern used.
The four known categories of frequency pattern include:
- Delta patterns: Binaural beats in the delta pattern are set at a frequency of between 0.1 and 4 Hz, which is associated with dreamless sleep.
- Theta patterns: Binaural beats in the theta pattern are set at a frequency of between 4 and 8 Hz, which is associated with sleep in the rapid eye movement or REM phase, meditation, and creativity.
- Alpha pattern: Binaural beats in the alpha pattern are set at a frequency of between 8 and 13 Hz, which may encourage relaxation.
- Beta pattern: Binaural beats in the beta pattern are set at a frequency of between 14 Hz and 100 Hz, which may help promote concentration and alertness. However, this frequency can also increase anxiety at the higher end of the frequency range.
Benefits of binaural beats therapy
Binaural beats therapy is primarily used to treat anxiety and stress, although it may also improve concentration and motivation as well.
Potential benefits include:
- reduced stress
- reduced anxiety
- increased focus
- increased concentration
- increased motivation
- increased confidence
- deeper meditation
- improved psychomotor performance and mood
The purpose for using binaural beats therapy may differ between people. Some people may need help decreasing their anxiety, while others may want to increase their concentration or deepen their level of meditation.
How to use binaural beats
To listen to binaural beats, a person will need a pair of stereo headphones and an MP3 player or another music system.
Avoid using binaural beats therapy while undertaking tasks that require alertness and full attention, such as driving. A person will need:
- 15-30 minutes of listening time
- a quiet and relaxing place to listen
- stereo headphones because each ear hears the sounds in a different frequency
Therapist and life coach Deb Smith recommends that to get the full and maximal effect of binaural beats therapy, people should practice it for 15-30 minutes every day for 30 to 45 days.
Smith recommends that once an individual has completed this initial therapy, they should continue to use it regularly as part of a maintenance practice, such as meditation and yoga.
Is there research to support binaural beats therapy?
Studies have shown that binaural beats therapy may help to reduce anxiety.
One small study of 19 participants conducted by Dr. Vincent Giampapa found that the use of binaural beats therapy in the alpha, theta, and delta patterns had positive effects on the human body. Dr. Giampapa found that these binaural beats improved the production of the hormones cortisol, DHEA, and melatonin.
His research of binaural beats therapy found:
- Effects on DHEA: The hormone DHEA affects how a person ages and resists disease; higher levels of DHEA are associated with improved health. In this study, Dr. Giampapa noted that 68 percent of participants had increased levels of DHEA while using binaural beats therapy.
- Effects on cortisol: The hormone cortisol is commonly associated with stress, and when levels are higher than usual, it can have a negative impact on the body. High levels of cortisol can lead to a range of conditions, including Cushing syndrome, menstrual cycle and female libido changes, anxiety, and depression. Dr. Giampapa noted a reduction of cortisol of up to 70-80 percent in several study participants.
- Effects on melatonin: The hormone melatonin plays a role in restful sleep. This study noted an average increase of melatonin of 97.77 percent.
Another study, conducted by researchers from the National College of Natural Medicine in Oregon, evaluated eight study participants who listened to delta wave binaural beat therapy every day for 60 days.
The results showed a decrease in anxiety, insulin-like growth factor, and dopamine. The participants also experienced an increase in quality of life. Researchers concluded that, although further study is needed in this area, binaural beats might improve self-reported anxiety.
A more extensive study of over 100 participants who were undergoing general anesthesia for a day procedure, reported a decrease in pre-operative anxiety. The participants in this study listened to 30 minutes of binaural beats before surgery, but the researchers noted that people experiencing high levels of pre-operative anxiety could listen to binaural beats for up to 1 hour before anesthesia to reduce levels of anxiety.
Although there is little evidence of any adverse side effects of using binaural beat therapy, a literature review of some current studies have identified some conflicting data, so further research is required.
As with any self-help type of tool, it is important that a person speaks with a healthcare provider or other qualified professional to see if binaural beats therapy is right for them.