Frontiers Science News

If you have a tendency to toss and turn during the night, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that roughly one-quarter of all Americans have trouble sleeping most nights. Some people claim to have found relief through the use of binaural beats. If you feel like you’ve tried everything already, this method might be worth a try.

What Is A Binaural Beat?

Binaural beats are created by listening to two very slightly different frequencies, one in each ear. The dissonance of the frequencies causes your brain to perceive a third, different, frequency. Essentially, it is an illusion of sound for the brain.

The existence of this mysterious phenomena was discovered in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove. Dove was a 19th-century researcher, experimenter, and professor.

The discovery happened when he devised an experiment using tuning forks and listening tubes. Placing a subject in a room, he would strike two tuning forks. The sound of each tuning fork was sent to a different ear by way of listening tubes. The tuning forks were, by nature, slightly varied in their frequency. Dove found that the subject perceived the differences between them. The subject was also able to hear the two sounds as one combined beat. This beat was at a different frequency than either of the tones from the tuning forks.

It is that combined beat, or frequency, which is important. The combined frequency can be designed to correlate to a frequency, or state, of the brain. These states are known as delta, theta, alpha, and beta states. Our brains move naturally through different states throughout the day. The delta state corresponds to deep sleep, while the beta state is one of high attention and energy. When our brains are exposed to a frequency matching one of those states, a process known as entrainment begins.

Entrainment is the matching of our biological behaviors to an external stimulus. This happens naturally. Our circadian rhythm will naturally adjust to the signals of light and dark over time. Additionally, our hunger hormones can be triggered just by smelling food. In this case, the sound stimulus tells our brain to enter a specific state. This state can be either one of relaxation or of attentive energy. Binaural beats have often been used for many things from sleeping to studying.

Are There Risks?

Research is just now starting to look at binaural beats for health purposes. Because of this, there is no hard evidence yet that binaural beats are able to affect your brain in a positive way. Despite this lack of evidence, many people who have used binaural beats swear by them. There is also no evidence that they are harmful to healthy adults. That said, anyone with heart or neurological issues should use caution. People with seizure disorders should not use them. If you’re interested in learning more about binaural beats in depth, check out this research article. It is one of the few research articles currently available on the subject.

If you want to give binaural beats a try, the important question is how to use them. Many different binaural programs exist in the marketplace. Some are even available at no charge. Many can be found on Youtube. Some are just the frequencies and others include music for a nicer listening experience. Find one that is specifically designed for sleep. These programs are made to slowly take your brain through the different stages of relaxation, ending in a deep sleep state. Simply play the audio through headphones right before you wish to sleep. Even better, you can play it as you are going to sleep. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work immediately. Some say it takes up to a month of consistent use before the benefits are noticed.