The Science Behind Binaural Beats

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Young woman in lab listening to binaural beats on headphones as part of scientific study

We all, instinctively play relaxing music when we are anxious or before bed, and lively, energetic beats when we have some chores to do or we want to exercise. This comes as no surprise to anyone.

The sound has an extremely beneficial impact on people in various ways- during everyday activities, meditation, yoga, and even healing. 

What does binaural beats science say about this?

What are binaural beats?

If you have ever experienced the inability to fall asleep when you want or focus on a test, you have probably tried to find some music or sounds to help you. Doing yoga and meditation you are bound to have come across the notion of binaural beats.

So let me explain what they are, do they and how they function.

The definition of binaural beatscience says that it “…is a frequency difference between the sound waves entering both left and right ear, separately”.

To explain this notion, let me first explain how ‘beat’ in this acoustic sense appears.

A beat is created as an interaction between two waves of different frequencies, they create a wobbling, pulsating sound.

This happens every time the sound waves of two different frequencies interact.

A binaural beat works a bit differently. ‘Binaural’ essentially means ‘related to both ears’.

For a binaural beat to happen, you have to be wearing headphones as the sound of one frequency will come through your left ear and the sound of the other, slightly different, frequency through your right ear.

In this case, you will also hear the wobbling, pulsating sound that comes as a consequence of the frequencies’ interaction, with the difference that the interaction will happen in your brain as the brain hemispheres are communicating, and not in the air.

You can easily check that by removing one earphone – e.g. if you remove the left earphone you will hear a steady sound in your right ear.

If you unplug the headphones and play the sound through speakers, you will also be able to hear the binaural beat in the form of a wobble but it will actually be an acoustic beat, but it will not create the same benefits, or it will have no benefits at all, as when you are using headphones.

Why and when are binaural beats used?

Practitioners of this type of meditation say that binaural beats can change your mood, even your hormones and how your brain works.

Biology says that each person has a dominant side of their brain. The left-side dominant people are good at math and logic, while right-side dominant are creative and artistic.

Theoretically speaking, if you could improve the communication between the halves of your brain, you would use more of it, and be able to perform tasks, create, improve your IQ, coordination, go into deeper meditative states, and more.

The binaural beat science claims they are great for your brain just because of that- they make both sides of your brain communicate; in this way they creating new neural pathways.

When the neurons communicate, they create impulses that are actually brain waves. You can see them on the fMRI or EEG, they show you which parts of your brain respond to stimuli.

At every point in the day, the brain creates those brain waves but they differ depending on what you are doing- e.g. your brain creates different brain waves when you are in a deep sleep and when you are focused on a task.

The idea behind binaural beats is that we can control and change the brain waves at will, with, and later even without the help of binaural beat sounds.

What experienced yogis do at will, you will need to do with the help of the binaural beats science. And, hopefully, with years of practice, you will be able to achieve the same level of brain power.

We have already said with binaural beat there is a set of slightly different frequencies coming through each ear. Let’s take this as an example. There is a 250Hz sound entering your right ear and 260Hz sound entering your left ear. The waves are initially confusing your bran as it is difficult for it to decide which frequency you are listening to, so it synchronizes with the 10Hz difference creating its own sound corresponding to a certain brain wave frequency.

To be able to observe the binaural beat, the frequencies need to be lower than 1000Hz

There are five different brain wave frequencies and all of them have their own field of action. So, when you are using the binaural beat sounds you cannot just play any track, but you need to adjust it to your current needs.

Here are the frequencies:

Delta – Delta brain waves have the lowest frequency from 0.1 to 4Hz. They naturally happen in a deep, dreamless sleep and deep meditation. They affect the growth hormone (which is why babies sleep a lot), they are said to help with healing, anti-aging, and deep relaxation.

Listening to binaural beats producing Delta frequencies helps you sleep more soundly. (E.g. 200Hz and 203Hz going in different ears).

Theta- Theta waves correspond to 4-8Hz frequencies and naturally happen in REM sleep (dreaming) and deep relaxation, as when you are about to fall asleep, also in meditation.

They improve creativity and are responsible for super-learning.

Alpha- Alpha waves (8- 13Hz) happen in relaxed states, when you are meditating, and when you are sleepy. Reaching this brain wave helps you relax, study fast, and think positively.

Beta- Beta waves are higher frequencies 13-30Hz and are naturally happening when you are focused, solving a problem, studying (i.e. with cognitive thinking). This means that we are during the day, mostly operating under Beta waves.  Listening to Binaural beats creating Beta frequencies helps you stay focused.

Gamma– With 30+Hz, Gamma waves are the highest frequencies, and happen when you are hyper-attentive, recalling memories and with high-level cognition. Creating these frequencies improve focus as well as Beta, but is reached less frequently as usually there are no need for this much attention. Reaching frequencies higher than 30Hz is very difficult.

Examination of binaural beats and their effects on the human (and animal) body is not new, it has been around for about 200 years.

Hormone benefits:

Delta waves increase DHEA levels by about 40% which helps fight aging.

Alpha and Theta waves reduce the cortisol level up to 80%, which helps fight stress and anxiety and promotes relaxation, and a 97% increase in melatonin which helps you fall asleep.

These are brain waves that your brain normally generates during various stages of meditation, so here’s a scientific explanation to why we all look younger, and feel more relaxed anyway.

How should you listen to binaural beats?

  • If you are new to this kind of practice even if you are a somewhat experienced in regular meditation, find some ‘beginner’ tracks (YouTube and Spotify offer a variety).
  • Do not fast-forward. Many of the tracks are designed to gradually lead you to the desired state (e.g. from Beta to Delta), and you should make the full journey through Alpha and Theta. Skipping the steps may confuse your brain.
  • Lower sound frequencies are more suitable to binaural beats than higher ones. The ear is on the other hand, less sensitive to lower than higher frequencies, which is why we tend to turn the volume up. You should keep the volume at the level just loud enough to hear the oscillation.
  • Especially if you are a beginner, do not listen to the binaural beats for longer than 90 minutes a day. Forming of the new neural paths will happen without you rushing it, but the brain needs time to repair and function in its normal rhythm during the day.
  • Be aware of possible side-effects. Some people have reported that they felt nausea, old memories and emotions, and even nightmares after the first few time of listening to binaural beats. This is expected as the brain forms new pathways.

And what should you do? Lower the listening time to 30 minutes a day for the first few weeks, and as in regular meditation, observe the feelings and let them go without judgement. Think of them as the noise that will go away shortly.

  • Expect to hear a hum. Just like you are seeing light after looking at a direct light source, you can hear a hum after listening to binaural beats. The nerves are still active. Keep this in check by lowering the listening volume and prevent neurons from becoming overactive.

This is all according to the conducted research.

The thing that confuses scientists is that there is definitely some change in the brain waves and the way brain functions but it is not consistent with every person. Some report heightened attention, others concentration while others just feel better altogether.

So, to reap all the benefits of binaural beats, try them out, play with them using the guidelines I have provided and observe the effects it has on your body and mind. And do not forget to use headphones to even be able to experience them.


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