November 13, 2021

The Benefits of Binaural Beats for Mental Health

Ivan Alsina Jurnet
The Benefits of Binaural Beats for Mental Health

During the last few years, binaural beat technology has started to be recognized as a powerful technique to improve the psychological wellbeing and the quality of life of its users, by helping them in achieving a positive state of mind and in managing negative emotions like stress or anxiety (Kelton et al., 2021; Wahbeh et al., 2007). The scientific literature has also started to demonstrate its benefits to improve key cognitive processes like memory (Colzato et al., 2017a; Hommel et al., 2016), attention (Beauchene et al., 2017; Garcia-Argibay et al., 2019) or the levels of creativity (Reedijk et al., 2013). However, despite its benefits on mental health, knowledge on the potential of binaural beat technology for the general population is still sparse.

What Are Binaural Beats?

Binaural beat technology is based on an illusion created by the brain that occurs when presenting separately to each ear two tones that slightly differ in their frequency. The presentation of two pure sinusoidal tones to each ear separately with a steady intensity, but with a slight difference in their frequency, results in the perception of a single illusionary tone with a different frequency. The frequency of this beat is the difference in hertz (Hz) between the frequencies of the two tones. For example, if a 510 Hz pure tone is presented to a listener’s right ear while a 500 Hz pure tone is presented to the listener’s left ear, then the listener would perceive an illusory binaural beat with a frequency of 10 Hz (McConnell et al., 2014). 

It is important to mention that the therapeutic properties of binaural beat technology are based on an effect called frequency-following (Moushegian et al., 1973). This effect induces a brain activity that corresponds to the perceived beat. The process of brain activity synchronization to the perceived beat is usually called entrainment (Wahbeh et al., 2007).

However, to experience brain entrainment the sounds received by each ear need to be isolated. Although the use of speakers is not suitable to get the full experience, the most common headphones are sufficient to get the basic experience. For the best binaural beats experience however, using an immersive stereo headphone that can reproduce and isolate the required frequencies accurately is highly recommended.

5 Types of Brainwaves that can be Induced by Binaural Beats

There are five types of brainwaves that influence the listeners’ mental state, determining their emotions and state of consciousness (Crum, 2021):

  • Delta (1-3 Hertz). This is the lowest frequency state and appears during deep sleep. It is considered that only Tibetan monks with years of experience in mediation can achieve this during an alert, awake phase.

  • Theta (4-8 Hertz). Theta waves appear when a person starts to meditate. They provides a productive state of mind, by stimulating creativity and concentration, increasing memory and improving ability to solve problems.

  • Alpha (8-13 Hertz). These are the most common brain waves that occur at the start of meditation and are associated with low heart rate and blood pressure. Alpha waves reduce stress hormone production and promote relaxation.

  • Beta (13-30 Hertz). Beta waves are associated with awareness and concentration improvement. It involves cognitive activity and logical thinking in an active state of consciousness.

  • Gamma (30-100 Hertz). Gamma waves are related to an intense state of concentration and to an active learning of the brain. They induce positive emotions, reduce the levels of fear and anxiety, and foster the retention of information. However, if overstimulated, they may lead to anxiety.

Despite there being a lack of agreement in the specialized literature, recent studies demonstrate that binaural beats can alter the functional connectivity between regions of the brain (Gao et al., 2014; Karino et al., 2004) as well as the connectivity of cortical networks (Beauchene et al., 2016; Beauchene et al., 2017; Ioannou et al., 2015).

In general, the existing research supports the idea that binaural beat technology can have a positive influence on listeners’ states of consciousness, cognitive performance, and mood (Sun & Sung, 2013).

Benefits of binaural beats on mental health

Relieves anxiety and stress

The use of binaural beats has been proven to be useful as a stress management technique in the general population (Le Scouarnec et al., 2001; Kelton et al., 2021; McConnell et al., 2014; Wahbeh et al., 2007), as well as in military service members (Gantt, et al., 2017) and military population (Bustamante-Sánchez et al., 2020). Binaural beats can reduce mental fatigue (Axelsen et al., 2020) and when combined with music, improve blood pressure control among older adults with hypertension (Wichian et al., 2021).

Studies have also shown its efficacy in healthcare settings, being effective in reducing preoperative (Isik et al., 2017; Padmanabhan et al., 2005; Schmid et al., 2020) and postoperative anxiety (Kurdi & Gasti, 2018), and in decreasing the levels of anxiety in emergency departments (Weiland et al., 2011).

Finally, it is interesting to mention that the combination of music and binaural beats is more effective in decreasing the levels of anxiety than the use of music without including binaural beats (Roshani et al., 2019Wiwatwongwana et al., 2016). The use of music with binaural beats also has better soothing effects than using the listeners’ favourite music (Nawaz et al., 2018).

Woman listening to music with headphones while lying on bed

Improves sleep

Binaural beats can affect three hormones that are associated with sleep: DHEA, cortisol, and melatonin. As a result, listening to binaural beats can strengthen the hormones that induce relaxation, helping to improve the ability to fall asleep and to stay asleep. In a preliminary study with soccer players listening to binaural beats from 2Hz to 8Hz, it was found that the participants reported improved quality of sleep, less sleepiness, and increased ease of waking up (Abeln et al., 2014).

Other studies have also shown the benefits of binaural beat technology on improving both sleep quality  (Bakaeva et al., 2021; Shumov et al., 2020) and sleep maintenance (Bang et al., 2019).

Reduces the levels of pain

Growing scientific evidence has demonstrated the effectiveness of binaural beats as a non-pharmacological procedure for pain management. In particular, it has been found effective in reducing the levels of acute pain during medical procedures with (Kurdi & Gasti, 2018; Roshani et al., 2019) or without the combination of music (Dabu-Bondoc et al., 2010; Ecsy et al., 2017).

One study conducted with 36 adults with chronic pain, has also demonstrated that listening to theta binaural beats was effective in reducing perceived pain severity for participants (Zampi, 2016).

Improves the cognitive performance

Finally, binaural beats have been found effective in improving a variety of cognitive abilities during the listeners’ daily life. Recent studies have shown benefits in improving both attentional processes (Colzato et al., 2017a; Hommel et al., 2016; Kennel et al., 2010; Lane et al., 1998; Reedijk, et al., 2015) and memory (Beauchene et al., 2016; Beauchene et al., 2017; Garcia-Argibay et al., 2019; Kennerly, 1994; Kraus & Porubanová, 2015; Ortiz et al., 2008; Wahbeh et al., 2007).

References


Abeln, V., Kleinert, J., Strüder, H. K., & Schneider, S. (2014). Brainwave entrainment for better sleep and post-sleep state of young elite soccer players—A pilot study. European Journal of Sport Science, 14(5), 393-402. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2013.819384

Axelsen, J.L:, Kirk, U., & Staiano, W. (2020). On-the-Spot Binaural Beats and Mindfulness Reduces the Effect of Mental Fatigue. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, 4(1), 31-39. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s41465-019-00162-3

Bakaeva, Z.V., Shumov, D.E., Yakunina, E.B.; Starshinov, Y.P., Sveshnikov, D.S.; Torshin, V.I., Dorokhov, V.B., & Karpov, V.I. (2021). The effect of music embedded with binaural beats on heart rate parameters during nap. Zhurnal nevrologii i psikhiatrii imeni S.S. Korsakova, 121 (4. Vyp. 2), 31-35. DOI: https://doi.org/10.17116/jnevro202112104231

Bang, Y.R., Choi, H.T., & Yoon, I-Y. (2019). Minimal effects of binaural auditory beats for subclinical insomnia: A randomized double-blind controlled study. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 39(5), 499-503. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1097/JCP.0000000000001097

Beauchene, C., Abaid, N., Moran, R., Diana, R. A., & Leonessa, A. (2016). The effect of binaural beats on visuospatial working memory and cortical connectivity. PLoS ONE, 11(11), e0166630. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0166630

Beauchene, C., Abaid, N., Moran, R., Diana, R. A., & Leonessa, A. (2017). The effect of binaural beats on verbal working memory and cortical connectivity. Journal of Neural Engineering, 14(2), 026014. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1088/1741-2552/aa5d67.

Bustamante-Sánchez, A., Tornero-Aguilera, J.F., Fernández-Elías, V.E:, Hormeño-Holgado, A.J., Dalamitros, A.A., & Clemente-Suárez, V.J. (2020). Effect of Stress on Autonomic and Cardiovascular Systems in Military Population: A Systematic Review. Cardiology Research & Practice, 1-9. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1155/2020/7986249

Colzato, L. S., Barone, H., Sellaro, R., & Hommel, B. (2017a). More attentional focusing through binaural beats: evidence from the global-local task. Psychological Research, 81(1), 271–277. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-015-0727-0.

Crum, D. (2021). Guided Meditation: Meditation Daily for Stress and Anxiety Release to Eliminate Depression and Increase Happiness (Your Personal Guide to Manage Stress, Anxiety, and Negative Thinking). Available at: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=VIQ7EAAAQBAJ&rdid=book-VIQ7EAAAQBAJ&rdot=1&source=gbs_atb&pcampaignid=books_booksearch_atb

Dabu-Bondoc, S., Vadivelu, N., Benson, J., Perret, D., & Kain, Z. N. (2010). Hemispheric synchronized sounds and perioperative analgesic requirements. Anesthesia & Analgesia, 110(1), 208–210. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1213/ANE.0b013e3181bea424.

Ecsy, K., Jones, A., & Brown, C. (2017). Alpha-range visual and auditory stimulation reduces the perception of pain. European Journal of Pain, 21(3), 562–572. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/ejp.960

Gantt, M., Dadds, S., Burns, D., Glaser, D., & Moore, A. (2017). The Effect of Binaural Beat Technology on the Cardiovascular Stress Response in Military Service Members With Post Deployment Stress. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 49(4), 411-420. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/jnu.12304

Gao, X., Cao, H., Ming, D., Qi, H., Wang, X., Wang, X., Chen, R., & Zhou, P. (2014). Analysis of EEG activity in response to binaural beats with different frequencies. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 94(3), 399–406. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2014.10.010

Garcia-Argibay, M., Santed, M. A., & Reales, J. M. (2019). Binaural auditory beats affect long-term memory. Psychological Research, 83(6), 1124-1136. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-017-0959-2

Hommel, B., Sellaro, R., Fischer, R., Borg, S., & Colzato, L. S. (2016). High-frequency binaural beats increase cognitive flexibility: Evidence from dual-task crosstalk. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1287. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01287

Ioannou, C. I., Pereda, E., Lindsen, J. P., & Bhattacharya, J. (2015). Electrical brain responses to an auditory illusion and the impact of musical expertise. PLoS ONE, 10(6), e0129486. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0129486.

Isik, B., Esen, A., Büyükerkmen, B., Kilinç, A., & Menziletoglu, D. (2017). Effectiveness of binaural beats in reducing preoperative dental anxiety. British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, 55(6), 571-574. DOI:  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bjoms.2017.02.014

Karino, S., Yumoto, M., Itoh, K., Uno, A., Matsuda, M., Yamakawa, K., Sekimoto, S., Kaneko, Y., & Kaga, K. (2004). Magnetoencephalographic study of human auditory steady-state responses to binaural beat. International Congress Series, 1270, 169–172. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ics.2004.05.072.

Kelton, K., Weaver, T.L:, Willoughby, L., Kaufman, D., & Santowski, A. (2021). The Efficacy of Binaural Beats as a Stress-buffering Technique. Alternative therapies in Health and Medicine, 27(4), 28-33. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32619206/

Kennel, S., Taylor, A.G., Lydon, D., & Bourguignon, C. (2010). Pilot feasibility study of binaural auditory beats for reducing symptoms of inattention in children and adolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 25(1), 3-11. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pedn.2008.06.010

Kurdi, M.S. & Gasti, V. (2018). Intraoperative Meditation Music as an Adjunct to Subarachnoid Block for the Improvement of Postoperative Outcomes Following Cesarean Section: A Randomized Placebo-controlled Comparative Study. Anesthesia, Essays and Researches, 12(3), 618-624. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4103/aer.AER_114_18

Kennerly, R. C. (1994). An empirical investigation into the effect of beta frequency binaural beat audio signals on four measures of human memory (MSc thesis). West Georgia College. Available at: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/An-Empirical-Investigation-Into-the-Effect-of-Beta-Kennerly/d88467792afe174e76677dac8dfbe159a8bad80b

Kraus, J., & Porubanová, M. (2015). The effect of binaural beats on working memory capacity. Studia Psychologica, 57(2), 135. Available at: https://www.muni.cz/en/research/publications/1309893

Lane, J. D., Kasian, S. J., Owens, J. E., & Marsh, G. R. (1998). Binaural auditory beats affect vigilance performance and mood. Physiology & Behavior, 63(2), 249–252. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0031-9384(97)00436-8

Le Scouarnec, R. P., Poirier, R. M., Owens, J. E., Gauthier, J., Taylor, A. G., & Foresman, P. A. (2001). Use of binaural beat tapes for treatment of anxiety: A pilot study of tape preference and outcomes. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 7(1), 58–63. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11191043/

McConnell, P. A., Froeliger, B., Garland, E. L., Ives, J. C., & Sforzo, G. A. (2014). Auditory driving of the autonomic nervous system: Listening to theta-frequency binaural beats post-exercise increases parasympathetic activation and sympathetic withdrawal. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1248. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01248.

Moushegian, G., Rupert, A. L., & Stillman, R. D. (1973). Laboratory note. Scalp-recorded early responses in man to frequencies in the speech range. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 35, 665–667.DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/0013-4694(73)90223-X

Nawaz, R., Nisar, H., & Voon, Y.V. (2018). The Effect of Music on Human Brain; Frequency Domain and Time Series Analysis Using Electroencephalogram. IEEE Access, 6(1), 5191-45205. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1109/ACCESS.2018.2855194

Ortiz, T., Martínez, A. M., Fernández, A., Maestu, F., Campo, P., Hornero, R., & Poch, J. (2008). Impact of auditory stimulation at a frequency of 5 Hz in verbal memory. Actas Espanolas de Psiquiatria, 36(6), 307–313. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18985458/

Padmanabhan, R., Hildreth, A. J., & Laws, D. (2005). A prospective, randomised, controlled study examining binaural beat audio and pre-operative anxiety in patients undergoing general anaesthesia for day case surgery. Anaesthesia, 60(9), 874–877. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2044.2005.04287.x

Reedijk, S. A., Bolders, A., Colzato, L. S., & Hommel, B. (2015). Eliminating the attentional blink through binaural beats: A case for tailored cognitive enhancement. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 6, 82. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2015.00082

Roshani, B., Rezaei, M., Azadi, P., & Jalilian, A. (2019). The Effect of Binaural Beat Music on Reducing Anxiety and Pain and Increasing Satisfaction of Ophthalmic Ambulatory Surgery Patients. Journal of Kermanshah University of Medical Sciences, 23(4); e99914. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5812/jkums.99914

Schmid, W., Marhofer, P., Opfermann, P., Zadrazil, M., Kimberger, O., Triffterer, L., Marhofer, D., & Klug, W. (2020). Brainwave entrainment to minimise sedative drug doses in paediatric surgery: a randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Anaesthesia, 125(3), 330-335. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bja.2020.05.050

Shumov, D.E., Yakovenko, I.A., Alipov, N.N., Bakaeva, Z.V., Yakunina, E.B., Minyuk, A.N., Vinokurov, A.V., & Dorokhov, V.B. (2020). The effect of music containing binaural beats on daytime fall-asleep dynamics. Zhurnal nevrologii i psikhiatrii imeni S.S. Korsakova, 120(2), 39-44. DOI: https://doi.org/10.17116/jnevro202012002139

Sun, Y-T. & Sung, H-C. (2013). The effects of binaural beat technology on physiological and psychological outcomes in adults: a systematic review protocol. JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports, 11(6), 207-215. DOI: https://doi.org/10.11124/jbisrir-2013-471

Wahbeh, H., Calabrese, C., &  Zwickey, H. (2007). Binaural beat technology in humans: A pilot study to assess psychologic and physiologic effects. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 13(1), 25-32. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2006.6196

Wichian, S.N., Klaphajone, J., & Phrompayak, D. (2021). Effects of Music Embedded with Binaural and Superimposed Beats Controlling Hypertension in Older Adults: A Quasi Experimental Study. Pacific Rim International Journal of Nursing Research, 25(3), 345-358. Available at: https://he02.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/PRIJNR/article/view/240945

Wiwatwongwana, D, Vichitvejpaisal, P., Thaikruea, L., Klaphajone, J., Tantong, A., & Wiwatwongwana, A. (2016). The effect of music with and without binaural beat audio on operative anxiety in patients undergoing cataract surgery: a randomized controlled trial. Eye (Lond.), 30(11), 1407-1414. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/eye.2016.160

Weiland, T. J., Jelinek, G. A., Macarow, K. E., Samartzis, P., Brown, D. M., Grierson, E. M., & Winter, C. (2011). Original sound compositions reduce anxiety in emergency department patients: a randomised controlled trial. The Medical Journal of Australia, 195(11), 694– 698. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5694/mja10.10662


Zampi, D. D. (2016). Efficacy of theta binaural beats for the treatment of chronic pain. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 22(1), 32–38. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26773319/