The phenomena of brainwave entrainment was first described in the scientific literature in 1973 by Gerald Oster in results published in an article in Scientific American entitled, “Auditory Beats in the Brain”. He showed that a specific brainwave could be induced when a person heard two separate, but closely related, sound frequencies, one in each ear. He discovered that when the frequencies heard by each ear differed by about 10 hertz, the brainwave pattern of the person hearing the sound would synchronize to the difference between the two frequencies. For example, if the person heard a 410 hertz sound in one ear and a 400 hertz sound in the other ear, their brainwaves would stabilize at the difference between the two, or 10 hertz. This technique is called binaural beats, and it is a fundamental principle of brainwave entrainment methods.
A person might wonder what the problem with looking for validation is; why we shouldn’t seek to compare our experiences with those others have had. Shouldn’t there be some sort of indicators that our practice is producing an effect? There are indicators, but they are not the high profile, odd phenomena most frequently looked for, and they may not become apparent immediately. Some things do take a little time.
Today we're going to put on our headphones, kick back in the beanbag, and get mellow to the soothing sounds of the latest digital drug: binaural beats. These computer generated sound files are said to massage your brain and produce all sorts of effects, everything from psychedelic experiences to behavior modification. Let's point our skeptical eye at the science of binaural beats, and especially at some of the claims made for them.
The mechanism for this is that when your eyes or ears are exposed to a particular frequency of pulses or beats, the thalamus first distributes this information to the entire brain, including the visual and cerebral cortex where neural activity begins to synchronize to the incoming frequency, producing hemispheric synchronization and a balance of brainwave activity across the brain.
The binaural-beat appears to be associated with an electroencephalographic (EEG) frequency-following response in the brain (3). Many studies have demonstrated the presence of a frequency-following response to auditory stimuli, recorded at the vertex of the human brain (top of the head). This EEG activity was termed "frequency-following response" because its period corresponds to the fundamental frequency of the stimulus (Smith, Marsh, & Brown, 1975). Binaural-beat stimulation appears to encourage access to altered states of consciousness.
While the physiological and psychological processes being uncovered by brain science in the study of brainwaves is sometimes complex and still being investigated, certain basic principles are well-established, easily understood, and helpful for achieving the most effectively use of brainwave entrainment when seeking relaxation, improved sleep, lowering of anxiety, or other goals. This important background information and scientific knowledge presented here includes:
A therapy that slows brainwave activity, helping to produce low-frequency waves, is likely to aid relaxation and sleep. But it’s not only lowering brainwave frequency that binaural beats may offer to sleep and relaxation. A small study (19 people) has found that exposure to binaural beats is associated with changes to three hormones important to sleep and well being:
This is an extreme example, naturally, but the idea holds true even in situations that are not as extreme. This ties in very closely with Point #4 above. When you’re wishing to combine meditation and brainwave entrainment, if you’re practicing a meditation technique but not really paying attention to what you’re doing, or perhaps you are performing the technique wrong, whilst allowing your mind to drift off to wherever it takes you, it should come as no surprise that the entrainment track is not helping you achieve a state of meditation. That’s because in fact you aren’t really trying to enter meditation or because you’re specifically engaging in activities that prevent you from getting there.
Effects on cortisol: The hormone cortisol is commonly associated with stress, and when levels are higher than usual, it can have a negative impact on the body. High levels of cortisol can lead to a range of conditions, including Cushing syndrome, menstrual cycle and female libido changes, anxiety, and depression. Dr. Giampapa noted a reduction of cortisol of up to 70-80 percent in several study participants.
If anybody would like to look over the scientific evidence concerning brainwave entrainment and isochronic tones, I’ve done a lot of research over the years which I’ve collected at the PubMed website of NCBI – a branch of the National Institute of Health – that provides access to a large library of medical journal articles. I’ve made my list public so you can look through the journal articles that were published concerning this topic. Here’s the link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/myncbi/1tmDFOl0XtyA4/collections/51531796/public/. Most of the collection only gives access to abstracts or summaries unless you’re at some kind of educational institution that has a subscription to the particular journal that article is in, but I actually find abstracts really helpful. So have at it, read away. And if your psychiatrist/therapist thinks you’re nuts for feeling better after listening to isochronic tones, just whip out your 82-page collection of scientific journal abstracts written by her peers and give it to her to read. 🙂
Gamma waves are the fastest brainwave frequency range. Gamma brain waves are believed to link and process information from all other parts of the brain. A high amount of gamma wave activity in the brain is associated with intelligence, compassion, focus and feelings of happiness. High levels of gamma brain waves have also been linked to improved memory and an increased sensitivity to sensory input. Low amounts of gamma brainwave activity have been linked to learning difficulties, poor memory and impaired mental processing.
Binaural meditation music is VERY popular these days, and you might have noticed that some of the companies that sell binaural music products make rather spectacular claims about the benefits of brainwave entrainment technology. Some declare that they can make you “meditate like a zen monk at the touch of a button”, or that you will “instantly meditate like the greatest gurus”. While it is true that binaural meditation music is extremely powerful, and that it can genuinely improve the quality of your life, it is not a miracle solution or a spiritual “get rich quick” scheme. Like all things in life, positive and lasting results will still take just a little time and effort on your part. Binaural meditation music just accelerates and deepens to process.
It’s important to keep in mind; a person’s own experiences will be somewhat relative to their starting point. If you are a person who is completely stressed out, burned out, hanging on the ragged edge, experiencing total adrenal fatigue, and you’ve been at that point for awhile, then to you even a small degree of mental quiet and physical relaxation that meditation and brainwave entrainment bring will feel like a tsunami of relief.
If new stressors are challenging your ability to cope or if self-care measures just aren't relieving your stress, you may need to look for reinforcements in the form of therapy or counseling. Therapy also may be a good idea if you feel overwhelmed or trapped, if you worry excessively, or if you have trouble carrying out daily routines or meeting responsibilities at work, home or school.
Your brain actually has a predominant frequency at which it operates in any given moment; this can be associated with your state of mind. In other words, the emotional state of your mind in any moment, such as feeling happy, sad, frightened, sleepy or excited, can be measured as a frequency and with the right sound technology, you can stimulate the state that you want on command!
Beta brainwaves are next highest in frequency after alpha waves, occurring at 13 to 30 hertz. Beta brainwaves are what we experience every day as we are awake and using our analytic mind. Beta brainwaves are needed for concentrating on mental tasks, and when they are present for too long of a time, they lead to stress, anxiety, and even paranoia. Most people do not have trouble achieving beta brainwaves and in fact suffer from spending too much time in beta brainwave patterns. However, those with attention deficit disorder (ADD) who have problems focusing their attention can benefit from learning how to achieve and remain in beta brainwave states for longer amounts of time.
There's nothing like anxiety to annihilate your sense of humor. It would follow, then, that it's impossible to feel stressed when you're hunched over in a fit of giggles. Studies have shown, in fact, that laughter not only relieves tension, but actually improves immune function. Swap jokes with your friends. Rent a funny movie. Stop taking things so seriously!
For example, according to Wikipedia, if you take one frequency in one speaker in a pair of headphones, say, 300Hz, and the other speaker for your other ear has a frequency of 310Hz, the resulting difference of 10Hz would be the rate that the pulse, or beat, plays at. 10Hz (Alpha Waves) would correspond to what the brain puts out when you are generally relaxed. So, in effect, listening to a 10Hz binaural beat for a certain amount of time should take the edge off.
Brainwave entrainment is a field of study and endeavor founded in the same physiological and psychological processes that make music, drumming, and chanting so powerful as methods for transforming the mind and spirit and aiding in healing of the body. These processes involve how the electrical energy in our brains synchronizes with sounds and visual stimuli, producing a particular brainwave frequency and its associated mental states.
Some studies have found that binaural beats can affect cognitive function positively or negatively, depending on the specific frequency that’s generated. For example, a study of long-term memory found that beta-frequency binaural beats improved memory, while theta-frequency binaural beats interfered with memory. This is something for scientists to continue to examine closely. For people who use binaural beats, it’s important to understand that different frequencies will produce different effects.
Articles and information on this website may only be copied, reprinted, or redistributed with written permission (but please ask, we like to give written permission!) The purpose of this Blog is to encourage the free exchange of ideas. The entire contents of this website is based upon the opinions of Dave Asprey, unless otherwise noted. Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective authors, who may retain copyright as marked. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the personal research and experience of Dave Asprey and the community. We will attempt to keep all objectionable messages off this site; however, it is impossible to review all messages immediately. All messages expressed on The Bulletproof Forum or the Blog, including comments posted to Blog entries, represent the views of the author exclusively and we are not responsible for the content of any message.
Most programs start at a work/life busy brain Beta frequency of twenty light flashes per second (20Hz) and slowly ramp them down to Alpha (relaxation and meditation) at 8-12 HZ, Theta (deep relaxation and dreaming) at 4-8 Hz) and Delta (dreamless deep relaxation) of .5-4Hz. We have taken measurements at Mass General with state of the art EEG equipment and have seen a slowing of the brain waves from Beta to Theta in two minutes and complete brain wave harmonization in the left, right, anterior, posterior and occipital regions of the brain.
Research: the authors stated that qualitative electroencephalogram signatures needed to be developed for different disorders and tested using standard validated methods of psychological assessment. Larger RCTs were needed with clear inclusion criteria for participants. The RCTs should measure qualitative EEG, hormone levels and the time of day of the intervention. Interventions protocols should be clearly defined and the relationship between session frequency/ duration and outcomes should be explored. More studies of auditory stimulation were needed, as well as studies comparing different types of stimulation, monaural, binaural and isochronic beats and use of white noise versus music.