Binaural Beats and Sleep

Did You Know…that binaural beats may be an effective non-drug approach to treating sleep disorders?

Binaural beats are much more than soothing sounds orchestrated to help you relax.  They are carefully tuned beats that mold your brainwaves to frequencies of relaxation, perfect for helping you sleep, alleviating anxiety, or even reducing pain.

What Makes a Binaural Beat? 

A binaural beat is created using two tones set to different frequencies, each below 1500 Hz and with less than a 40 Hz difference between them.  One tone is presented in the right ear, and the other in your left ear.  In the process, you perceive the “auditory illusion” of a third tone, which is the binaural beat, and it’s the difference between the two tones.

Binaural Beats Made Simple

To understand how binaural beats work, just imagine the frequency of the tone playing in your right ear is 250 Hz, while the frequency of the tone playing in your left ear is 240 Hz.  The binaural beat (the third tone) you perceive is 10 Hz, the difference between 250 Hz and 240 Hz.  Your brainwaves then adjust to the frequency of the binaural beat (10 Hz).  In other words, your brain lowers its frequency to match the binaural beat, a process that could be valuable to sleep therapies. 

Dr. Gerald Oster of Mount Sinai Medical Center verified this phenomenon in the October 1973 issue of Scientific American. Around the same time, Robert Monroe of the Monroe Institute of Applied Science used EEG machines to show that binaural beats don’t just affect regions of the brain associated with sound, but induce changes in brainwaves throughout the entire brain, left and right hemispheres included!

Binaural Beats and Sleep 

When we are awake and alert, our brainwaves are set to the dominant beta frequency.  When we are relaxed, our brainwaves are set to the dominant alpha frequency.  When we are in a deep state of sleep, our brainwaves are set to the delta frequency.  Binaural beats can help us entrain the brain to attune to delta waves so that we can fall asleep and stay asleep easier.

Studies have yet to prove that binaural beats help you fall asleep faster—but evidence does show that listening to binaural beats while sleeping improves sleep quality.  A 2014 study published in the European Journal of Sport Science showed that 8 weeks of sleeping to the sounds of binaural beats improved perceived sleep quality and post-sleep state of athletes.

A small-scale study made up of 3 participants and conducted by Northwestern sleep scientist Dr. Giovanni Santostasi, showed that 3 nights of sleeping with delta audio brainwave training raised delta levels by as much as 30% compared to 3 nights of regular sleeping.  Such an increase in delta (deep sleep) waves has a substantial impact on your health. The deeper you sleep, the more effectively your body can:

  • Process memories
  • Flush toxins from neurons
  • Regulate hormones
  • Rejuvenate itself

Dr. Santostasi explains that increased delta activity means your “neurons are more synchronized.  So memory consolidation, neuron toxin flushing—these processes become more optimized.”

Beat Away Anxiety 

Findings also suggest that binaural beats can help calm anxiety.  Researchers from Chiang Mai University in Thailand found that patients undergoing cataract surgery under local anesthesia were less anxious, with lower heart rates and blood pressure, when listening to binaural beats.  And a 2007 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine study showed that listening to binaural beats for 60 days significantly reduced anxiety.

Binaural beats are safe and side-effect free.  There are many different apps and streaming systems that feature different binaural beat programs.  Try an experiment of one and test them out to see which ones work best for sleep and relaxation. 

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