As anyone who’s experienced insomnia knows, not being able to fall asleep can be an incredibly frustrating and demoralizing experience. You could be exhausted, practically falling asleep where you stand, and as soon as you lie in bed your mind begins whirring. The longer you lay there trying to drift off, the more sleep evades you. When you do manage to fall asleep, you’re not surprised to wake up just a few hours later. Aside from it being a frustrating experience, not getting enough sleep can have a huge impact on our health, wellbeing, relationships, and ability to perform at work. If you’ve been on a rollercoaster with insomnia for some time now, you’ve probably tried listening to relaxing music…But have you tried binaural beats?
Binaural beats were discovered by physicist Heinrich Wilhelm Dove in 1839, but have only recently piqued the interest of insomniacs and biohackers alike for their potential benefits.
What are Binaural Beats?
Binaural beats aren’t exactly music. They do involve tones, but they’re actually an auditory illusion created within the brain.
More specifically, they are the result of playing one tone at a specific frequency in your left ear, and another tone at a different frequency in your right ear. These slightly different frequencies create a third tone within your mind, which is the binaural beat.
For example, if the tone in one ear is 10 Hertz (Hz), and the tone in your other ear is 30 Hz, the binaural beat would be 20 Hz. 
Research has found that our brains are able to perceive binaural beats when both tones are below 1000 Hz, and the difference between them is less than 35 Hz. 
How Do Binaural Beats Work?
Essentially, when the brain hears different tones coming through each ear, it tries to integrate them into a single tone or beat. As you listen to binaural beats over time, experts believe that neurons begin firing and sending messages at the same rhythm as the binaural beat. 
This is why so many people are excited about the potential of binaural beats — listening to them over time may make it easier to shift brain states!
Binaural beats and brain waves
To understand binaural beat’s potential benefits for sleep, let’s do a quick refresh on brain waves.
Brain waves are patterns of electricity created by activity in the brain. Researchers have found that different patterns and amounts of electrical activity (measured in Hertz) are linked with different mental states.
For instance, electrical activity in the brain between 1-4 Hz (the delta range) is associated with states of deep sleep.
So theoretically, when you listen to tones that create a binaural beat, your brain activity and mental state begin synchronizing to it.
Binaural beats are believed to have different effects depending on their frequency.
Delta waves (1-4 Hz) — deep sleep, relaxation, unconsciousness.
Theta waves (4-8 Hz) — relaxation, sleep, creative and meditative states, lucid dreaming
Alpha waves (8-13 Hz) — physical and mental relaxation, creativity, the moments of relaxation just before you fall asleep
Beta waves (14-30 Hz) — focus, energized alertness, active consciousness (like with problem-solving, making decisions, or learning a new skill)
Gamma waves (32-100 Hz) — peak mental focus, heightened perceptions, flow states
The Reported Benefits of Binaural Beats
While we’re still exploring why binaural beats affect the brain, preliminary research and growing numbers of firsthand reports suggest it can promote states of relaxation and deep sleep.
Many claim the benefits of binaural beats include:
- Enhanced sleep
- Increased creativity
- Increased focus
- Improved mood
- Better memory
- Reduced anxiety
- Promote relaxation
- Less stress
Binaural beats and sleep
Supporters of binaural beats have suggested that it acts as a sort of meditative practice, helping to down-regulate stress and induce relaxation similarly to mindfulness practices. Others have positioned it as a type of sound wave therapy, dubbed binaural beat therapy.
More studies are needed to determine if its benefits come from the binaural beat itself or from quieting the mind and essentially meditating. However, the available research does suggest that binaural beats can support sleep, alongside stress and anxiety.
One study found that listening to delta frequency binaural beats (set at 3Hz) led to increased delta activity in the brain, which is essential for stage three deep sleep and feeling well-rested and energized in the morning. They also found that the delta wave binaural beat could help increase time in deep sleep, without sleep disturbances. 
A small study of just 19 people found that delta-range binaural beats led to increases in three hormones associated with getting a good night’s sleep: DHEA, cortisol, and melatonin. 
Known as our stress hormone, cortisol plays a critical role in keeping us alert and awake as a part of our stress response system. DHEA supports immune function and helps suppress cortisol, among other responsibilities. Melatonin is a hormone that naturally increases as it gets darker outside as a part of our internal sleep-wake cycle and helps promote sleep. 
The study found that 68% of participants experienced boosts in DHEA levels, 70% saw drops in cortisol levels, and 73% had increased melatonin levels following binaural beat exposure. Amazingly melatonin increased in participants on average by 93! 
Another small study found that listening to binaural beats between 2-8 Hz led to self-reports of improved sleep, reduced tiredness in the morning, and an easier time waking up among soccer players. 
Aside from directly supporting sleep, numerous studies have found that they can also help reduce symptoms of anxiety, which can make it easier to sleep. 
Are there any side effects?
For the most part, it seems binaural beats come with few to no negative side effects. Some listeners may get irritable or frustrated after listening to them for an extended period. Intersperse your binaural beat tracks with other music, ambient sound, or white noise to switch things up.
Additionally, make sure your volume isn’t too high as volumes over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.
Start Using Binaural Beats to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Getting started is pretty simple. All you need is a pair of headphones, binaural beats tracks, and you’re good to go!
Try using your binaural beats for at least 15 minutes before you’d like to head to sleep as a part of your sleep hygiene and evening routine. This can help you enter a meditative state that makes sleeping soundly easier to achieve.
- Discover how they affect sleep with The Sleep Foundation HERE >>
- Explore how they affect the brain HERE >>
- Read about the effects of delta binaural beats on stage three sleep HERE >>
- Learn about the small study on how they affect hormones HERE >>
- Discover the effects on sleep for soccer players HERE >>