In this modern, busy life many people experience problems with winding down at the end of the day and insomnia levels are at an all-time high. It is thought that in some parts of the world, as many as 50-60% of adults struggle with insomnia in one way or another, this is especially true of females in the older age brackets.
With this in mind, finding new ways to aid a more restful night’s sleep is becoming a hot topic with many people turning to meditation and, more specifically, binaural beats. But how does this sound phenomena help us to drift off more peacefully? In this article, we are going to explore this in a little more depth.
What Are Binaural Beats?
In the same way that we might view an optical illusion which tricks our eyes into seeing something that perhaps isn’t really there, binaural beats have the same illusionary effect on our hearing – this is known as an auditory illusion. There is quite a lot of science behind the concept but it’s pretty simple to understand.
How The Binaural Beat Works?
Binaural beats make use of two tones, one played into each of the ears – for this reason, it is always recommended that you use headphones to listen to binaural beats. The brain finds it difficult to effectively tune in to both frequencies at the same time and so, as a compromise, will tune into the difference between the tones. Sounds complicated, right? Let’s take a look at an example:
If you are listening to a tone of 132Hz in the right ear and one at 121Hz in the left, your brain will synchronise to the difference between these two tones – in this case, 11Hz. Essentially, the tone you will hear will be 11Hz, despite there not being a tone played at this frequency and that is the illusion.
However, what’s even more interesting is that that on top of the illusionary tone, you will still be able to hear the two frequencies that are actually being played. There has been a lot of research into how binaural beats work and it is now widely accepted that for the sound to be effective, both of the frequencies must remain below 1000Hz and the difference between the two must not exceed 30Hz.
There are five main patterns of binaural beats and each one has it’s own benefits.
- Alpha beats are generally between 7Hz and 13Hz and are good for promoting relaxation.
- Delta beats are played between 0.5Hz and 4Hz and are most commonly associated with sleep. Binaural beats for sleep allow the listener to enter the deeper stages of sleep more quickly and promote a dreamless experience.
- Theta beats are set between 4Hz and 7Hz and are often used to improve meditation and creativity but are also effective at improving the phases of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
- Gamma beats operate between 30Hz and 50Hz and are associated with remained alert and aroused during waking hours.
- Beta beats play at a frequency between 13Hz and 30Hz. They are commonly used to improve concentration but are also extremely efficient in reducing anxiety levels.
What Are Binaural Beats Used For?
One of the most exciting aspects of binaural beats is that there are many potential uses for them, this is particularly true when speaking in a therapeutic sense. Binaural beats are thought to bring benefits in the following areas:
- Reduce the effects of anxiety, inducing a feeling of calm and relaxation.
- Lower stress levels.
- Increase concentration and focus making you more productive.
- Improve mood which could potentially aid in conditions such as depression.
- Pain management.
- Astral Projection.
- Lucid Dreaming.
- Improve creativity which is excellent news for anyone working in the arts or other similar industries.
When we listen to binaural beats, the reaction in the brain is almost identical to the reaction experienced when we meditate and for this reason, it is thought that binaural beats may play a part in aiding meditation as well as being an alternative.
Whilst the use of binaural beats as a form of treatment is still under review by the medical profession, there is no denying that they do have an effect on the brain and one of the most interesting things is that listening to binaural beats for sleep may help those who struggle to switch off at the end of the day.
Binaural Beats Sleeping
There are many reasons why people may find it difficult to fall asleep, from stress and worrying about things that need to be done tomorrow through to not being able to get comfortable and everything in between.
According to Healthline, playing binaural beats for just 30 minutes each day could have a profound effect on not only your ability to fall asleep but also your sleep quality.
For many people, dropping off to sleep isn’t the problem, low sleep quality can have an extremely detrimental effect on your wellbeing and how well you function during the day. Using binaural beats can improve the quality of your sleep and in turn, may lower stress levels and increase productivity.
We talked earlier about how delta beats can have a positive effect on sleep so let’s look at this in a little more detail.
Some people might refer to this concept as slow-wave delta sleep and this is because the delta waves are very slow and low-frequency. In a sleeping person, these waves are naturally produced in the deeper stages of sleep known as non-rapid eye movement or stages 3 and 4 sleep. During this time, these are the dominant brain waves and so reproducing them by listening to binaural beats can induce deep sleep.
It is not difficult to see when we look at the points above, that the lower the frequency of the binaural beats, the more relaxing the effect and the higher the frequency, the more the listener is alert and aroused. This means that to use binaural beats as a sleep aid, we must use the lower frequencies.
The concept of binaural beats may only have recently emerged into the wider community so it may come as a surprise to learn that they, and other soundwaves have been used for many years and scientists have performed many studies surrounding their effects.
One particular process which is known as entrainment has been deeply studied and has shown that brainwave patterns can be manually adjusted simply through the introduction of sound waves. As a result of this, scientists have concluded that binaural beats work in this way so when we use delta waves which emit low-frequency beats within the brain, sleep is more naturally induced.
What’s most interesting is that all of this is achieved by tricking the brain into creating brainwaves conducive to sleep – pretty impressive, right!
In addition to promoting delta brainwaves, it is thought that binaural beats can regulate pain. Chronic pain, otherwise known as fibromyalgia, is one of the leading causes of poor quality sleep yet with binaural beats, the condition may have a lesser effect on sleep.
Sleep Hormones And Binaural Beats
If the induction of brainwaves as a result of binaural beats wasn’t enough to blow your mind then perhaps learning that even your hormones may be controlled by them is enough to make you say ‘Wow!’
It is believed that when we listen to binaural beats, not only are we deeply relaxed but three of the major hormones associated with sleep are altered, further aiding in better sleep.
- DHEA is one of the main hormones and has the responsibility of aiding in the production of other hormones as and when they are needed, making it pretty important. This hormone plays a huge role in the function of the immune system but is also vital when it comes to quality sleep. The reason for this is that DHEA can suppress the production of cortisol which is known to make you more alert. Studies have shown that 68% of people tested produced higher levels of this hormone when exposed to binaural beats before sleeping.
- Cortisol is a hormone that, as we mentioned, controls our alertness and focus and is often at its peak during the first few hours of the morning, when we need to be more alert. For those struggling with insomnia, it is not uncommon to see raised cortisol levels which can exacerbate the condition. However, evidence suggests that the cortisol levels are significantly decreased when listening to binaural beats for sleep.
- Melatonin is one of the hormones which plays an essential part in sleep, both promoting and regulating it. The hormone is at its highest during the evening and you will likely notice that your body begins to relax at this time in preparation for sleep. In the same study that we have already discussed, it was discovered that 73% of people who took part had increased melatonin levels after listening to binaural beats.
It is impossible to deny, with the amount of scientific evidence, that binaural beats are effective. This incredible phenomenon that has the ability to alter the brain waves can yield some amazing benefits – one of the most notable being better sleep. Not only do binaural beats change the brainwaves, but they are also able to impact hormone production which further promotes better sleep quality.