do binaural beats actually work
Binaural beat therapy is used for the treatment of anxiety, stress, and sleep disorders, but research on the clinical benefits is inconclusive

Binaural beat therapy is used for the treatment of anxiety, stress, and sleep disorders. This self-help treatment is available in the form of audio recordings that are listened through stereo headphones. 

However, research on the clinical benefits of binaural beat therapy is inconclusive, and its delivery is not overseen by a doctor. As a result, it is best not to use this type of intervention in place of conventional treatments for stress and anxiety. Binaural beat therapy is not part of standard care for any condition.

What are binaural beats?

Binaural beats are types of sound waves that have been specially designed to naturally alter the way the brain processes information. At its core, it is a type of auditory illusion where two tones with slightly varying frequencies are played into each ear, creating the auditory illusion of a third tone.

The word “bi” means two, and the word “aural” means ear. Binaural beats work by having people listen to two different tones, one in each ear, at two different frequencies. However, the beat, which is the difference between the two frequencies, is heard by the brain. 

If listening to a frequency of 180 Hz in one ear and 200 Hz in the other, the brain will perceive the rhythm as 20 Hz (the difference between the two frequencies). In a way, the mind tunes itself to this newly discovered frequency, which supposedly alters the functioning of the brain.

6 purported benefits of binaural beat therapy

Binaural beats are supposed to generate the same relaxing effects of meditation because they produce the same brain waves observed in a meditative state. As a result, binaural beat therapy may have many of the advantages of mindfulness techniques, such as:

  1. Relieving stress: Binaural beats are said to help the body and mind relax, thereby relieving stress and anxiety. Binaural beats have been reported to promote a general sense of mental well-being as well as reduce depression and general mood disorders.
  2. Reducing anxiety: When used regularly, binaural beats are thought to be able to reduce generalized anxiety in the long run, as well as anxiety associated with specific situations. Binaural beats have been shown in studies to reduce anxiety by 26.3%.
  3. Helping with sleep: Certain frequencies of binaural beats activate certain brain waves, which can help the body and mind relax and sleep more deeply.
  4. Increasing focus: Binaural beats have been studied for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a condition that causes people to struggle to maintain focus on one task, among other symptoms. While more research is required, some potentially promising results have been demonstrated.
  5. Improving memory: According to some research, people who listened to various frequencies of binaural beats (beats in the 5 Hz range) had better memory outcomes.
  6. Boosting creativity: Studies have shown that binaural beats influenced performance in divergent thinking tasks. Divergent thinking is the process by which you generate original, creative ideas and occurs when you come up with more than one solution to a problem or when you think outside the box.

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Possible benefits of binaural beat therapy according to Hertz ranges

Different benefits can be derived from differences in the frequencies of binaural beats and the range of brain waves affected. 

Brain waves are measured in Hertz (Hz), which is the number of cycles per second that the brainwave produces. As a result, the lower the Hertz, the less active the brain.

Table: Possible benefits of binaural beat therapy by Hertz range
Range Hertz Possible benefits
Delta 1-4 Hz
  • Relaxation and deep sleep
Theta 4-8 Hz
  • Rapid eye movement or REM sleep
  • Relaxation
  • Increased creativity
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Improved long-term memory
  • Reduce pain
Alpha 8-13 Hz
  • Relaxation
  • Positive mood
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Increased creativity
  • Meditation
Beta 13-30 Hz
  • Increased concentration or better focus
  • Increased problem-solving ability
  • Improved memory
Gamma 30-50 Hz
  • Increased mental capacity and cognitive activity
  • Increased perception of the environment
  • Increased problem solving

Is binaural beat therapy effective?

A 2017 study used electroencephalogram monitoring to measure the effects of binaural beat therapy. It discovered that binaural beats do not affect brain activity or emotional stimulation, implying that they may not be harmful to the brain.

Few studies, however, have been done on binaural beats. Furthermore, the studies that do exist frequently use small sample sizes, so their findings cannot be generalized. 

Nonetheless, many studies suggest that binaural beats may have some effect on the brain. There simply have not been enough of them to determine what that effect is, what causes it, and how powerful the outcomes could be. 

To fully understand the impact of binaural beats, brain imaging studies that trace the cause of any measurable effects should be studied. For the time being, most of the evidence on binaural beats is anecdotal. They may have some interesting effects on the brain, but more research is required.

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Medically Reviewed on 10/27/2021
References
Image Source: Pheelings Media / Getty Images

WebMD. What Are Binaural Beats? https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-are-binaural-beats

Colzato LS, Barone H, Sellaro R, Hommel B. More attentional focusing through binaural beats: evidence from the global-local task. Psychol Res. 2017;81(1):271-277. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5233742/

Stein T. Can Listening to Binaural Beats Make You Feel Better? Good Therapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/can-listening-to-binaural-beats-make-you-feel-better-0724124