Jay Summer is a health content writer and editor. She holds a B.S. in psychology and master's degrees in writing and public policy.
How do you relax before you fall asleep? Maybe you follow a guided meditation, or perhaps you listen to a podcast or peaceful music. Another possible auditory strategy is listening to binaural beats as you drift off to sleep.
Binaural beats aren’t a music genre. They are an auditory phenomenon created by your brain in response to hearing specific tones in each ear. Early research of the experimental treatment indicates that listening to binaural beats can reduce feelings of anxiety and improve your ability to fall asleep.
Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep are common symptoms of insomnia. This sleep disorder has many possible causes, such as stress and mental health disorders, sleep and lifestyle habits, certain medications, and even other sleep disorders. Common techniques for relieving insomnia symptoms include improving sleep hygiene and developing routines to relax before bedtime. For some, listening to binaural beats is a helpful, relaxing addition to their sleep routine.
Binaural beats are a perception of sound created by your brain. If you listen to two tones, each at a different frequency and each in a different ear, your brain creates an additional tone you can hear. This third tone is called a binaural beat. You hear it at the frequency difference between the two tones.
For example, if you listen to one tone at 300 hertz (Hz) and the other tone at 310 Hz, the binaural beat you hear is at 10 Hz. The binaural beat can be heard if the frequency of each tone in your ears is less than 1000 Hz and the difference between the two tones is less than 35 Hz.
When each ear hears a tone at a slightly different frequency, your brain tries to compensate by creating the perception of a third sound. This creation of a third sound is caused by the same part of the brain that helps you determine the location of a sound. To hear the binaural beat, you must have sound coming in each ear. If you take out one of your earbuds, you’ll no longer hear the binaural beat.
When binaural beats are sustained over a period of time, they can synchronize with your brain waves. As a result, binaural beats can alter your brain wave activity as well as your levels of arousal.
Binaural beats can be created at different frequencies. Each frequency is associated with outcomes that correspond to different levels of brain wave activity.
Preliminary research suggests that binaural beats can help you sleep better. A study using binaural beats at a delta frequency of 3 Hz showed that these beats induced delta activity in the brain. As a result, the use of binaural beats lengthened stage three sleep. Stage three sleep is deep sleep and important for feeling refreshed in the morning.
Other small studies indicate the potential of binaural beats for better sleep. In study of soccer players listening to binaural beats ranging from 2 Hz to 8 Hz, players reported improved quality of sleep, less sleepiness, and increased ease of waking up. Binaural beats can also help reduce anxiety, which can then lead to improved sleep.
On the other hand, some researchers have argued there is insufficient evidence linking binaural beats with lessened anxiety or improved sleep. Further research of binaural beats, particularly their effects on sleep, must be conducted.
If you decide to use binaural beats in hopes of improving sleep, there are numerous binaural beat tracks available online. You can also purchase CDs or audio files featuring binaural beats. Oftentimes, these tracks have white noise or other gentle sounds to help you relax. Choose tracks designed for sleep, which are typically beats at theta or delta frequencies.
The length of binaural beat tracks vary. You may need to experiment with multiple listenings to determine how long of a track you need to induce sleepiness.
When listening to binaural beats, make sure you have sound entering each ear. You can wear headphones or earbuds, whichever is more comfortable. If you lose sound in one ear, you will not hear the binaural beats created independently by the brain.
Currently, only a few negative side effects of using binaural beats have been reported. Some listeners report irritability or frustration while listening to the beats. To prevent this discomfort, researchers suggest tracks with additional sounds, such as white noise.
Additionally, long-term exposure to sound at 85 decibels or higher can result in hearing loss. Examples of everyday sounds at that level or above are motorcycles, concerts, sporting events, and listening to music at full volume through headphones. As you listen to binaural beats, be sure the volume is not too high.
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