When you hear two tones — one in each ear — that are slightly different in frequency, your brain processes a beat at the difference of the frequencies. This is called a binaural beat.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you’re listening to a sound in your left ear that’s at a frequency of 132 Hertz (Hz). And in your right ear, you’re listening to a sound that’s at a frequency of 121 Hz.
Your brain, however, gradually falls into synchrony with the difference — or 11 Hz. Instead of hearing two different tones, you instead hear a tone at 11 Hz (in addition to the two tones given to each ear).
Binaural beats are considered auditory illusions. For a binaural beat to work, the two tones have to have frequencies
Binaural beats have been explored in music and are sometimes used to help tune instruments, such as pianos and organs. More recently, they have been connected to potential health benefits.
Binaural beats are claimed to induce the same mental state associated with a meditation practice, but much more quickly. In effect, binaural beats are said to:
- reduce anxiety
- increase focus and concentration
- lower stress
- increase relaxation
- foster positive moods
- promote creativity
- help manage pain
Meditation is the practice of calming the mind and tuning down the number of random thoughts that pass through it.
A regular meditation practice has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, slow down the rate of brain aging and memory loss, promote mental health, and lengthen attention span. Practicing meditation regularly can be quite difficult, so people have looked to technology for help.
Binaural beats between 1 and 30 Hz are alleged to create the same brain wave pattern that one would experience during meditation. When you listen to a sound with a certain frequency, your brain waves will synchronize with that frequency.
The theory is that binaural beats can help create the frequency needed for your brain to create the same waves commonly experienced during a meditation practice. The use of binaural beats in this way is sometimes called brain wave entrainment technology.
All you need to experiment with binaural beats is a binaural beat audio and a pair of headphones or earbuds.
You can easily find audio files of binaural beats online, such as on YouTube or via downloaded audio files to your mp3 player or mobile device.
As mentioned earlier, for a binaural beat to work, the two tones have to have frequencies of
You can also decide which brain wave fits your desired state. In general:
- Binaural beats in the delta (1 to 4 Hz) range
have been associatedwith deep sleep and relaxation.
- Binaural beats in the theta (4 to 8 Hz) range
are linkedto REM sleep, reduced anxiety, relaxation, as well as meditative and creative states.
- Binaural beats in the alpha frequencies (8 to 13 Hz)
are thoughtto encourage relaxation, promote positivity, and decrease anxiety.
- Binaural beats in the lower beta frequencies (14 to 30 Hz)
have been linkedto increased concentration and alertness, problem solving, and improved memory.
- Binaural beats of 40 Hz were found to be helpful in enhancing training and learning, according to a
When listening to binaural beats, it’s best to sit in a comfortable place free of distractions. Listening to the binaural beat audio for at least 30 minutes each day in your headphones ensures that the rhythm is entrained (has fallen into synchronization) throughout the brain.
You can experiment with the length of time you listen to the binaural beats to find out what works for you. For example, if you’re experiencing high levels of anxiety or stress, you may want to listen to the audio for a full hour or longer.
Remember, you must use headphones for binaural beats to work. You may also want to listen with your eyes closed.
While most studies on the effects of binaural beats have been small, there are several that provide evidence that this auditory illusion does indeed have health benefits, especially related to anxiety, mood, and performance.
- An older 2005
controlled studyin roughly 100 people about to undergo surgery also found that binaural beats were able to significantly reduce pre-operative anxiety compared to similar audio without the binaural tones and no audio at all. In the study, anxiety levels were cut in half for people who listened to the binaural beat audio.
- A 2007 uncontrolled study asked eight adults to listen to a binaural beat CD with delta (1 to 4 Hz) beat frequencies for 60 days straight. The results of the study found that listening to binaural beats for 60 days significantly reduced anxiety and increased the overall quality of life of these participants. Since the study was small, uncontrolled, and relied on patient surveys to collect data, larger studies will be needed to confirm these effects.
- One larger 2011
randomized and controlled triallooked at the use of binaural beats in 291 patients admitted to the emergency department at a hospital. The researchers observed significant decreases in anxiety levels in patients exposed to audio with embedded binaural beats compared to those who listened to audio without binaural beats or no audio at all.
- A 2019 study combined the effects of binaural beats and autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), a phenomenon of a relaxation response to certain audio or visual triggers. It was suggested that the combination of the two were more beneficial than either separately.
- However, a
2015 review of studiesfound that most studies in this area are limited or contradictory, and that there’s evidence of diminishing impact over time. More research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits and how they differ from monaural beats.
There are no known side effects to listening to binaural beats, but you’ll want to make sure that the sound level coming through your headphones isn’t set too high. Prolonged exposure to sounds
Binaural beat technology could be a problem if you have epilepsy, so you should speak with your doctor before trying it. More research is needed to see if there are any side effects to listening to binaural beats over a long period of time.
With several human studies to back up the health claims, binaural beats appear to be a potential tool in the fight against anxiety, stress, and negative mental states.
Research has found that listening daily to audio with binaural beats may have positive effects on:
Learning to meditate isn’t always easy. Binaural beats won’t work for everyone, and they aren’t considered a cure for any particular condition.
However, they might offer an auditory escape for those interested in relaxing, sleeping more peacefully, or entering a meditative state.