We are used to monaural or monophonic sounds that are defined by a single channel, while binaural sounds refer to the combination of different tones in each ear and can change the frequency of our brainwaves. This change in frequency can induce various states of consciousness, from relaxation, meditation and sleep to concentration, attention span and memorisation.
To better understand how binaural sounds work, they are recordings of different sound waves that have been recorded through two different speakers so that when you listen to the recording you end up perceiving a third sound.
According to the research article by Lorenza Colzato et al. published in 2017 and updated in 2021, the experience of such oscillations is described as hearing a sound with a frequency equal to the frequency difference between the original tones (Oster 1973). For example, when the left ear is presented with a 320 Hz tone, and the right ear with a 360 Hz tone, the subject will perceive a tone oscillating at a frequency of 40 Hz (i.e. 40 beats per second).
These binaural sounds are differentiated with clinical electroencephalographic (EEG) bandwidths, namely delta, theta, alpha, beta or gamma. This auditory stimulation has been widely used to modulate brain rhythms and thus induce the mental condition associated with EEG bandwidth or brain synchronisation.
How are Brainwave Frequencies Measured?
All brain waves are measured using a qEEG. This test is performed by placing electrodes on the person's scalp to measure electrical activity within the brain as it responds to what the person is doing or thinking.
"Typically, the qEEG data is displayed on a 'map' of the head, so we can see which areas of the brain have electrical activity, such as over the prefrontal cortex [PFC], amygdala or hippocampus." This procedure would also show which brain frequencies are most active and how they behave in relation to each other.
Different Frequencies of Binaural Sounds and
Their Effect on the Brain and Body
Wave Type and Range
Specific effects on your brain
Gamma Wave Frequency γ
Over 30 Hz Induces concentration, focus, learning and memorisation.
Beta β-Wave Frequency
13-30 Hz During most activities while you are awake
Alpha Wave Frequency α
8- 12.99 Hz Occurs during wakefulness, with an active mind but in a resting state.
Theta Wave Frequency θ
4- 7.99 Hz Occurs during sleep phases 1-2 (not deep sleep).
Delta Wave Frequency δ
1 - 3.99 Hz Occurs during sleep phase 3 or deep sleep.
Each of these wave frequency types corresponds to different levels of wave activity taking place in the brain. For example,
Gamma (γ) waves are between 35Hz -50 Hz which range corresponds to the highest frequency in brain activity. This type of waveform is associated with attention, focus, information processing and problem solving. In addition, participants in Colzato's study, mentioned above, showed improved memory, cognitive function and even mood.
Beta (β) waves have a range between 13Hz - 30Hz corresponding to brain frequency waves or medium beta waves (15-20 Hz) or also known as "beta two" waves which are associated with increased energy, performance, and efficiency in work performance. However, high beta waves (18-30 Hz), known as "beta three" waves, are already associated with significant stress, anxiety, paranoia, increased energy, and elevated overstimulation. (Study)
Alpha (α) waves oscillate between 8 Hz - 12 Hz and correspond to an active but relaxed and/or resting mind. This is a state that encourages creativity and productivity, while it can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. You can enter this state by daydreaming, meditating, or practising mindfulness.
According to an article in Verywell Mind Magazine, things you can do to help improve your ability to experience the Alpha (α) brainwave type would be,
Meditate: Meditation apart from having many health benefits, has been associated with increased alpha waves in the brain.
Deep breathing: Deep breathing can be an effective way to combat feelings of anxiety. Research also suggests that it can help increase alpha activity in critical brain areas.
Practising mindfulness: Studies have shown that mindfulness training can increase alpha wave activity, and some research has suggested that this practice can help people suffering from chronic pain, anxiety, or depression. (study)
Yoga: The state of relaxation associated with alpha waves may be increased by practising yoga, and some research has suggested that regular yoga practice may improve alpha activity in the brain. (article)
Aerobic exercise: Some researchers suggest that aerobic exercise may increase alpha wave activity. (article)
Theta (θ) waves oscillate between 4Hz and 8 Hz and occur during the first phase of sleep, i.e. when you are falling asleep. Also, there are already studies that corroborate that listening to 6Hz binaural audio can induce meditative and introspective states (study).
The fact that these waves are visible both in phases of light sleep and during concentration tasks, in a kind of autopilot state, is what makes them so interesting.
The Theta wave frequency is present during healing processes as well as recall of emotional experiences (good and bad), memory retrieval and the encoding of new memories into thoughts.
But Theta waves are also an important part of the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep phase, which occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. This is the phase of sleep in which vivid dreams can occur.
Dreams can often be influenced by the way you manage your mind during the day. When you go to sleep after successfully coping with stress or controlling intrusive thoughts, you have access to more Theta activity. This enhances the benefits of REM sleep and helps regenerate the mind, brain, and body, providing restful sleep for efficient performance the next day.
According to an article in Mind Body Green magazine, "if you want to visualise your goals to make them a reality, you can draw on practices such as creativity, self-regulation and brain building (practising deep thinking and learning on a daily basis). These regularly performed practices increase the Theta frequency, especially in the frontal areas during activities that require attention or short-term memory."
"It is important to remember that Theta waves are an energetic response to mental activity, and how you manage your mind will result in optimal Theta responses."
Delta (δ) waves are those oscillating at less than 4Hz and correspond to the deep sleep phase where the brain transitions from Theta to Delta waves. This is where dreams occur but also where your body has the opportunity to recover, your immune system to strengthen and conditions such as stress, anxiety and others to balance and heal. When Delta wave activity is dominant, the person is in deep sleep without dreaming.
Humans dream in 90-minute cycles. When Delta brainwave frequencies increase to the frequency of Theta brainwaves, active sleep occurs, often becoming more vivid for the person. Normally, when this occurs, there is a rapid eye movement, characteristic of active sleep, which is called REM or REM (rapid eye movement).
When you awaken from a deep sleep, preparing to get up, your brainwave frequencies will increase through the different specific stages of brainwave activity. That is, they will go from Delta to Theta, then to Alpha and finally, when the alarm goes off, or you just wake up, to Beta.
You will sometimes wake up but then go back to sleep, i.e. back slightly to Alpha, or even to Theta, or sometimes even back to Delta. During this awakening cycle you may remain in Theta for a period of 5-15 minutes, allowing you to brainstorm about the previous day's events or to get a sense of the activities that lie ahead for the new day. This period can be extremely productive and a time of very meaningful and creative mental activity.
Benefits of Binaural Sounds on Your Brain and Body
Each binaural frequency has its own properties and benefits that you can use according to your needs. Adapting the rhythms you listen to, according to the occasion, will promote homeostasis in your body. According to an article on the website www.soundmedicineacademy.com the main benefits of binaural beats include,
To Decrease Anxiety
Specifically, listening to frequencies in binaural beats at the Theta or Delta level seems to decrease the anxiety people feel. This effect seems to increase the longer binaural beats are listened to - to some extent - and can be experienced from the first exposure to binaural beats (García-Argibay et al., 2019).
One study showed that study subjects experienced a 26% decrease in their anxiety levels after listening to binaural sounds for 20 per day. The study was conducted over two weeks, alluding to the fact that consistency in the application of the treatment is necessary to obtain significant and long-term results.
On the other hand, depending on the severity of the anxiety, binaural beats may not work as strongly as a medication for the symptoms. However, when the rhythms are listened to regularly, they can have a telling impact.
To Increase Concentration, Cognitive Flexibility, Prolonged Attention and Performance in Memory Tasks.
There are several published studies indicating that listening to binaural beats improves concentration. One study, for example, showed that people who listened to binaural beats for 15 minutes experienced fewer distractions after the end of the experiment compared to people who did not (Kirk et al., 2019).
Cognitive flexibility is the brain's ability to adapt to new, changing or unexpected events. But it is also the ability to switch from one way of thinking to another. This is also known as task switching. According to studies, binaural beats can induce greater cognitive flexibility (Homme et al., 2016).
In this study, the researchers wanted to know whether listening to binaural sounds (BS) could help improve attentional ability in an attention blink task. Attentional blink refers to when we find it difficult to detect a second object after having paid attention to another. To find this out, participants were divided into two groups and made to listen to SB while performing the attention flicker task on three different days.
It turned out that 40 Hz stimulation during training showed faster results compared to 16 Hz stimulation. However, this improvement is not observed immediately, but after the brain has had time to assimilate and consolidate the information during sleep. This indicates that auditory stimulation of Binaural Sounds (BS) could be a promising form of non-invasive brain stimulation to improve training and learning, especially in the field of rehabilitation.
Binaural Rhythms for Boosting Creativity
Human creativity depends on a multitude of cognitive processes, some of which are influenced by the neurotransmitter dopamine. This suggests that creativity could be enhanced by interventions that directly modulate dopamine production or transmission or affect dopamine-driven processes.
A 2013 experiment used binaural beats of Alpha and Gamma frequencies. The results showed that binaural beats, regardless of the frequency presented, can affect divergent thinking (creativity) but not convergent thinking (focus and direction). Individuals with a low EBR (Eye blink rate) or flicker frequency benefited mostly from the stimulation of Alpha binaural beats, while individuals with a high EBR or flicker frequency were unaffected or even impaired by Alpha and Gamma binaural beats. This suggests that binaural beats, and possibly other forms of cognitive entrainment, are not suitable for a single approach, and that individual cognitive control systems must be taken into account when studying methods aimed at cognitive enhancement.
To Improve Sleep Quality
Here binaural beats in the Theta range can help with falling asleep.
Sound therapy has been used to treat insomnia sufferers. Listening to the rhythms just before bedtime can help to fall asleep.
Binaural Beats Could Reduce Physical Symptoms and the Level of Pain Perception
All physical ailments have their origin in a signal from the brain. If you attack the root of the problem, the brain, you at least reduce the chances of being affected by minor physical ailments.
Back, joint and other pains can be the result of inflammation or high blood sugar levels. As a first step you should consult with your doctor and binaural beats can certainly work as a complementary medicine to medications and therapies you may be prescribed.
Rhythms in the Theta pattern or in the vicinity of 6 Hz will be instrumental in reducing the experience of pain. Scientists are investigating how to harness rhythms in these frequencies for a short-term solution to severe pain problems.
To Improve Mood
We have already learned that sound and music can work as medicine and just listening to music that cheers you up or evokes beautiful emotions can have a very positive effect on reducing depression while increasing feelings of joy and well-being.
In the case of Theta frequency binaural sounds, these would stimulate endorphins in the brain, triggering a surge of positive feelings.
Binaural Beats May Induces Meditation More Easily
Reaching a meditative state is not so simple, especially today with so much information bombardment, it is even more complicated. But it has been proven that listening to Theta-frequency rhythms for about 30 minutes can help induce a state of relaxation, disposing you to meditation.
Useful Tips If You Want to Take Advantage of Binaural Sounds to Improve the Quality of Your Life
On platforms such as Youtube you can find a wide selection of audios with different frequency types. Experiments have shown that for binaural sounds of Gamma frequency to have the effect of focus, memorisation, and prolonged attention, they should be listened to half an hour before the event that requires one of these functions to prepare your brain in advance.
Some people are extremely sensitive to sounds and they can be very disturbing. That is why some audios come with music where sounds are included to make the effect more subtle, but just as effective.
You don't need to listen to the audios all day long to activate your brain in the desired frequency. Sometimes half an hour, or an hour is enough, especially if it is Gamma and Beta frequencies because the brain gets tired as if it had been in a 1-hour school or university course.
Listen to the sounds at a low volume as they should not be overpowering and the idea is that they help your brain to settle down and focus on the activity, be it work, creativity, meditation, or sleep.
If you suffer from seizures, heart problems, or use a pacemaker, it is recommended that you first consult your doctor before trying biannual rhythms.
Knowing your brainwave states can help you enhance your cognitive abilities to take advantage of the specialised characteristics of each state, including being mentally productive in a wide range of activities, such as learning and memorising, staying focused, relaxed, or creative, as well as being able to get restful sleep.