When we are mentally active various groups of neurons will be firing and the EEG will look like a jumble of different waves at different frequencies. When we are in a relaxed state, however, our brains settle into a steady rhythm – when fully awake this is the alpha rhythm, which as a frequency of 8-12 hz and other recognizable features. When drowsy our brainwaves slow to the theta range, 6-7hz, and when in deep sleep into the delta range, 4-5hz.
Most of these websites give some brief explanation of entrainment. The example you hear most often is that of Dutch polymath Christiaan Huygens, who in 1665, hung two pendulum clocks next to each other on a wall. He noticed that the pendulums eventually matched each others' frequency, but always in antiphase, opposite to each other, as if canceling each other out. He'd try disturbing one or setting them in sync, but they'd always return to the same antiphase synchronization. Huygen's experience is widely touted on binaural beat websites as a demonstration of how systems can become spiritually connected through some energy field. However, they misunderstand what happened, and have not read the full story. Huygens also tried taking one clock off the wall, and as soon as they were no longer physically connected to one another via the actual wall, the effect disappeared. It was not the proximity of the clocks to one another that created the entrainment; it was their physical, mechanical connection to one another. As each pendulum swung it imparted an infinitesimal equal and opposite reaction to the wall itself. With two clocks on the wall, the system naturally sought the lowest energy level, according to the laws of thermodynamics; and both pendulums would thus swing exactly counter to each other, minimizing the system's total energy.
Binaural beats were the first method discovered for brainwave entrainment and works by delivering tones of different audible frequencies to the two ears with the difference in frequency between the two tones being the frequency of entrainment. The difference in frequency between the two tones must be less than 30 hertz, and this resulting frequency is called a beat or the target frequency, and it is processed in a brain region called the olivary body. When listening to such tones with stereo headphones, the two hemispheres of the brain become synchronized at the target frequency.
So, in summary, binaural beats certainly do not work the way the sellers claim, but there's no reason to think they're any less effective than any other music track you might listen to that effects you in a way you like. If they make you sleepy (like they all do for me), use them to go to sleep. If they relax you or get you amped, use them for that. But don't expect them to be any more effective than regular music. If someone you know claims that they are, put them to the test, and bust the myth.
Go behind the scenes of brainwave entrainment technology creation with Joseph Kao, developer of the extraordinary meditation tool Journey to the Center of the Self. Here, in an interview with John Dupuy, CEO of iAwake Technologies, Joe describes the amazing complexity of the brainwave entraining soundscape he created to both accompany his deeply inductive, 30-minute, guided meditation on the first track of Journey, and also stand alone as a music-only track that holds you in a profoundly relaxed, still, yet clear place on the theta/delta border. To find out all that went into the making of the inductive guided meditation on the first track of Journey, see A Guide to Transpersonal Meditation: Journey to the Center of the Self, part I of this interview.
“In order to get into a flow state, you have to calm a part of the brain, the posterior cingulate cortex, which is the source of what brain scientists call the default state, which is the non-focused state,” says Harris. “At any rate, it turns out that Holosync [binaural beats], when you listen to it, [calms that part of the brain] and so does traditional meditation. It’s just Holosync does it faster and more easily and more effortlessly. It turns down the posterior cingulate cortex and it enhances the other part of the brain that, when it’s enhanced, you can easily go into a flow state.”
Delta is the lowest frequency range of .2Hz - 3Hz, corresponding to dreamless sleep, growth hormone release, healing and ultra deep trance. Effective in reducing migraines, chronic pain and blood pressure. By inducing a predominantly Delta state in the brain while remaining awake, you push your brain to operate in a truly unique state that literally forces greater neural adaptation and cross-connection between the regions of your brain.
The use of brainwave entrainment techniques offers many benefits for overall health and well-being, including improved emotional stability, increased cognitive function, and a deepening of creative insight. Much of this benefit derives from the hemispheric synchronization occurring as a result of entrained brainwaves. This effect happens when the electrical impulses in both hemispheres synchronized to the same frequency being delivered through the entrainment source.
Changes in neural oscillations, demonstrable through electroencephalogram (EEG) measurements, are precipitated by listening to music, which can modulate autonomic arousal ergotropically and trophotropically, increasing and decreasing arousal respectively. Musical auditory stimulation has also been demonstrated to improve immune function, facilitate relaxation, improve mood, and contribute to the alleviation of stress. These findings have contributed to the development of neurologic music therapy, which uses music and song as an active and receptive intervention, to contribute to the treatment and management of disorders characterized by impairment to parts of the brain and central nervous system, including stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer's disease, and autism.