Brainwave entrainment is an area that has intrigued me for years. As a recreational musician and artist, I truly believe sounds and images have immense effects on the brain. In previous articles, I mentioned the Mozart Effect and the benefits of music to the brain, ranging from promoting positive emotions to improving cognitive skills. Classical music is always one of my top picks whether for lifting my spirits or boosting my brain power. Its magic is undeniable.
Another favourite is binaural beats. They are not a genre of music but a form of (auditory) brainwave entrainment. Personally, I have been using them for years, combined with classical music, to help me with various aspects of life, from performing tasks that require mental effort to relaxing and meditating.
Positive effects of binaural beats on the brain are scientifically proven and some claim to be equally matched to those of classical music. So, what exactly are brainwave entrainment and binaural beats? You will find out below.
What are Brainwave Entrainment?
Brainwave entrainment is also known as neural entrainment or brainwave synchronisation. It is a process that creates desirable changes in brain activity by using a variety of different external stimuli at certain frequencies to guide the brain into various states. You can read more about brain wave frequencies here. Examples of stimuli used in brainwave entrainment could be sounds, lights, periodic vibration or even electromagnetic fields.
Scientists believe that with brainwave entrainment we can train the brain to enter a specific state at will and reap the benefits of it. With this, our performance in many areas of life, particularly in psychological and physical well-being, will improve.
A common, non-invasive auditory stimulus in brainwave entrainment you may have come across is binaural beats.
What are Binaural Beats?
“Bi” comes from the Latin language means “twice”. Binaural beats are also known as binaural tones. They are sounds created by sending slightly different frequencies to your left and right ears to stimulate a desired response in the brain.
For example, while the right ear hears a frequency of 400 Hz, the left ear hears a frequency of 410 Hz. In this case, the difference between the two frequencies is 10 Hz which is a desired frequency (for the alpha state) perceived by the brain. If other states are required, the difference between two frequencies can be adjusted accordingly. They are best experienced through headphones.
Binaural beats are a form of auditory brainwave entrainment. They are best experienced through headphones.
What are Monaural Beats?
“Mono” comes from the Greek language means “single” or “alone”. Monaural beats are similar to binaural beats in terms of function. However, instead of the two frequencies being created separately, they are combined and sent through a single channel. So, the sound you hear in both ears is identical.
In order to hear the difference in frequencies, you best experience binaural beats through headphones. With monaural beats, headphones are not necessarily required.
The Benefits of Binaural Beats as Brainwave Entrainment
Binaural beats were discovered more than a century ago and scientists have been studying their effects on humans for decades. Due to their rapid rise in popularity with intensive publicity in recent years, their true capabilities may have been slightly exaggerated or biased. This is because every brain is different and we all have been exposed to different experiences and have different limitations.
In spite of that, numerous clinical studies have shown that brainwave entrainment has positive effects on humans in various aspects, from emotion to cognition and medical treatment.
Binaural beats are popular among people who experience difficulties in falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up. The symptoms are common for insomnia. Despite many possible triggers, the most common causes are stress, anxiety, depression or physical pain.
Clinical research has shown that binaural beats help improve quality of sleep among insomnia sufferers by lowering levels of cortisol, known as a primary stress hormone, and promoting higher levels of melatonin, known as a sleep-regulating hormone.
Recent studies have shown that binaural beats in slower frequencies also help your brain enter states of relaxation and happiness during the day.
Binaural beats help improve quality of sleep, reduce stress levels and help your brain enter states of relaxation.
Brainwave entrainment has been used by humans since ancient times as part of religious practices. Mantra or chanting meditation is widely known to help people keep their mind focused, raise their spiritual awareness or cope with both internal and external fears.
Research has shown that during the chanting meditation, brain activity changes positively. An increase in delta brain waves is present. The sound of chanting, in particular, makes meditators feel more connected with their own consciousness and the divine.
Nowadays, many people are using binaural beats to help quiet their mind and send their brain into a calmer state during meditation practice. Benefits of chanting meditation on the brain and body go way beyond sending you to deeper meditation and mindfulness. I will talk about it in a future article.
3. Cognitive Function
Numerous studies have been conducted on binaural beats and cognitive function in recent years. Research from the University of Bonn in Germany has shown that binaural and monaural beat stimulation helps reduce levels of mind wandering in people who experience a persistent wandering mind.
Binaural beat stimulation in beta frequencies has been found to promote short-term and long-term memory. Gamma frequencies which are the highest frequencies help with focus and learning while alpha frequencies help you become more creative.
4. Medical Treatment
Binaural beats are also associated with physical therapy and pain management. They are gaining more popularity, especially among chronic pain sufferers. Chronic pains may have many possible causes ranging from an illness and physical injury to unhealthy lifestyle. Severe physical pains can lead to depression and insomnia in some cases.
A study on the efficacy of a neural stimulus (theta binaural beats) for the treatment of chronic pain shows that they are able to reduce the participants’ perceived pain severity by 77%. Recent studies in this area also show positive results. However, binaural beats are not intended to replace professional medical treatments and people who are prone to seizures should use them with caution.
In a nutshell, different frequencies have different impacts on how the brain perceives and performs. Even though brainwave entrainment shows promising results confirmed by numerous clinical studies and the general public, remember that every brain is different and results may vary.
Brainwave entrainment, especially binaural beats, has given hope to many people as a self-help and non-invasive therapy. Despite low risks associated with this, further research is needed for scientists to fully understand it.
If you are also someone who is intrigued by the idea of brainwave entrainment but uncomfortable with exposing your body to new technological devices and their possible side effects, listening to binaural beat music of your choice could be a good start.
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