Many people with migraine experience sound sensitivity during or before an episode. Most people, in these cases, find that avoiding noise can help ease migraine pain.

Still, this may not occur for everyone. As people look for new ways to prevent or treat migraine headaches, there’s been an increasing interest in using sound therapy.

This article looks closely at the evidence supporting music therapy and binaural beats to address migraine symptoms.

Some people say music helps relieve migraine pain. However, there isn’t enough research to support this finding.

In a 2021 study of 20 adults with episodic migraine, about half of the participants reported 50% fewer migraine attacks after 3 months of daily music-listening sessions.

A 2013 study involving kids with migraine found that there was about a 20% reduction in headache frequency with music therapy. However, this 20% reduction was equal to the results of the study’s placebo group.

Much more research has been done on using music therapy for stress relief. These studies consistently show a meaningful benefit. These findings may be of interest given that stress is thought to be a trigger for up to 70% of people with migraine.

What are the types of music for migraine?

In the aforementioned study involving adults with migraine, the therapy program was developed using instrumental music. Various styles were used, including:

  • classical music
  • jazz
  • world music

Based on these findings, instrumental music may help promote optimal relaxation. Consider pieces with slower tempos — between 40-80 beats a minute — and fewer instrumental voices.

A licensed music therapist may be able to help develop a listening plan that works best for you.

Binaural beats are an auditory illusion that occurs when the brain simultaneously processes two sounds at slightly different frequencies. The brain tries to reconcile the differences by creating a third tone, known as the binaural beat. It represents the difference between the two real tones.

Brain waves beat at their own natural frequencies, depending on what is happening in the brain. Research from 2016 has found that changes in brain wave frequencies are linked to headache attacks in people with migraine.

Binaural beats may be able to correct these changes in the brain waves and help reduce migraine frequency and relieve pain.

Like music therapy, the use of binaural beats in migraine has not been well studied.

In 2019, results from a study involving 21 people with migraine were published. Participants listened to music containing binaural beats every night for 3 months.

At the start of the study, the average number of headache days monthly was 14.9 days. At the end of the 3 months, the average number of headache days each month dropped to 13.3. Nine participants had their number of headache days per month lower by at least 30%.

However, no significant difference was found when comparing results from the group listening to binaural beats to those who listened to a music track that did not contain binaural beats.

Other studies have found that binaural beats may reduce the frequency or intensity of chronic pain. However, these studies did not specifically include people with migraine, and lots of variability was seen in responses.

As a whole, these results suggest that some people may experience migraine relief after listening to binaural beats, but not everyone.

Because there are so few studies on binaural beats and migraine, knowing which frequency is best is unclear.

Some sources suggest using a frequency that aligns with the brain’s natural waves. Several types of brain waves beat at different frequencies and are linked to different states of consciousness, alertness, and relaxation.

An overview of natural brain wave frequencies is provided in the following chart.

Brain waveFrequency (Hz)Activities
Gamma~30-100Involved in concentration and active thinking; linked with compassion, memory, and happiness
Beta12-38Represent normal attentive state; faster waves are present during problem solving and decision making
Alpha8-12Present during quiet thought and meditative states; represent the resting state of the brain
Theta4-8Involved in daydreaming, light sleeping, and meditation; promote drowsiness
Delta1-4Present during deep sleep; stimulate healing and restoration in the brain

Studies of binaural beats in migraine and chronic pain have typically used theta or alpha frequencies ranging from 4-12 Hz.

Because so little research has been done, knowing the potential risks of binaural beats in people with migraine is uncertain.

In the study above, two participants had worsening migraine episodes after binaural beats therapy. However, there were only a few people who participated in the study.

Changes in normal brain wave activity may be linked to other health concerns as well.

Excess delta and theta brain wave activity may cause difficulties with focus. High levels of theta activity have been observed in people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Too little alpha activity may lead to depression.

Because research on the effects of binaural beats on the brain is limited, it’s unknown how they may affect these different aspects of mental and emotional health.

The way you perceive sound changes when you have migraine. Sounds that people may perceive as pleasant — such as a natural sounds like birds chirping — may be unpleasant to some people with migraine.

Each person with migraine is different. Generally, you may want to avoid loud or harsh noises (such as car alarms). Sounds with higher frequencies (>400 Hz) may also be especially bothersome to people with migraine.

If specific noises, including music or binaural beats, worsen migraine pain, try to avoid them during a migraine episode or when you feel a migraine coming on.

Though there is growing interest in sound therapy for migraine relief, research is limited. Some people may benefit from music therapy or binaural beats. However, more studies are needed for listening guidelines.

If you’re interested in trying new approaches to manage migraine pain, your healthcare team can help you find the best options for you.