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November 28, 2022

The Benefits of Binaural Beats for Mental Health

Ivan Alsina Jurnet
November 10, 2021
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 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).

Are binaural beats safe?

To date, the scientific literature has shown that there are no known side effects or dangers to listening binaural beats (Kennel et al., 2010; Moessinger et al., 2021). However, note that the side effects of auditory beat stimulation, for example, the potential for fatiguing effects and headaches, have not yet been categorically investigated (Chaieb et al., 2017).

In general, some recommendations are needed to take into consideration, for a correct use of Binaural Beats:

  • While there are no possible dangers of listening to binaural beats, the tone level shouldn’t be too high. Loud sounds above 85 decibels can lead to loss of hearing in the long term.
  • Is not recommended to use it in persons with tinnitus, as it can increase their levels of anxiety (Ibarra-Zárate, 2022; Munro and Searchfield et al. 2019)
  • A small percentage of users can inform about physical effects related to the release of stress and tension in the body (for ex.: muscle tingling, the desire to take a nap etc.). These symptoms are normal and commonly reported during meditation practices.
  • It is essential to choose a type of brainwave that fits the users’ purposes (for ex: to improve awareness and concentration, to stimulate creativity, to promote relaxation, etc.)

Users of frequencies higher than 40Hz (Gamma) must be attentive to possible increases of anxiety levels (Engelbregt, 2019).

Relax VR combines the exposure to natural VR scenes, meditation, essential oils, and binaural beats music to create a space for users to virtually escape, mindfully unwind and holistically reconnect with themselves. The binaural beats of Relax VR encourage a state of light alpha relaxation, as it is associated with meditation and a low heart rate and blood pressure.

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