“Stress and sleepless nights are closely linked,” Buenaver says. “If you’re in pain, tend to worry, or are coping with a difficult situation in your life, you may have more stress hormones than usual circulating in your body. A poor night’s sleep adds even more. And those hormones may never be fully broken down. It’s like running an engine in fifth gear all the time.”
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.
When tuning instruments that can produce sustained tones, beats can be readily recognized. Tuning two tones to a unison will present a peculiar effect: when the two tones are close in pitch but not identical, the difference in frequency generates the beating. The volume varies like in a tremolo as the sounds alternately interfere constructively and destructively. As the two tones gradually approach unison, the beating slows down and may become so slow as to be imperceptible. As the two tones get further apart, their beat frequency starts to approach the range of human pitch perception, the beating starts to sound like a note, and a combination tone is produced. This combination tone can also be referred to as a missing fundamental, as the beat frequency of any two tones is equivalent to the frequency of their implied fundamental frequency.
Theta brainwaves are next highest in frequency above delta and are especially important for many people using brainwave entrainment and meditation because theta waves are at a threshold, forming a link between wakefulness and the subconscious mind. Theta waves bridge between our awake self and the creative and insightful understandings from below our conscious awareness, and while they are not common in awake adults, they are normative for children under 13 years old.
Gamma waves are the most recently discovered brainwave, a discovery made possible by digital EEG technology. Gamma is associated with the integration of information from different areas of the brain, and having a good memory is associated with having a certain baseline of 40 hertz gamma activity. Low gamma activity is associated with learning disabilities and poor memory.
In one study, researchers had a group of participants relax alone in a quiet, low-light environment following an exercise session. They split the group in two — one spent 20 minutes listening to theta-frequency binaural beats while the other listened to a carrier tone and monitored their parasympathetic (rest and relaxation) and sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system activity. Researchers found the group that listened to binaural beats experienced an increase in parasympathetic activity and a decrease in sympathetic activity, along with higher rates of self-reported relaxation.
With regard to listening without headphones specifically, you might find it irritating if you are someone who suffers from motion sickness, depending on how the track is created. If you were listening to binaural beats, they really need headphones to work properly. If you are in a room and closer to one speaker you may not even hear binaural beats properly, and if sitting off centre in the room generally, that may have unsettled you if you have motion sickness as the tones try to form a beat in your head. If it was just a standard isochronic tones theta track that shouldn’t be irritating if you have motion sickness.
When explaining this to others they frequently respond with something like, “But I had no expectation or even any idea that my face might experience flushing. I didn’t even know that was possible. Now every time I listen to a particular entrainment track that specific face flushing occurs. If it is a specific phenomena, and it only happens when I use one certain entrainment track, doesn’t that prove it is the entrainment causing it?”
Other than that the experience of those brainwave states is no different. Once we achieve a particular brainwave state using entrainment there is one significant difference to the experience and that is that we are usually still at a high level of consciousness. We’re not (hopefully) zoned out as we are when daydreaming or unconscious as we are when we’re sleeping. We maintain awareness and therefore we get to consciously experience what those brainwave states feel like in some detail.
Both brainwave entrainment and neurofeedback deal with brainwaves, but the similarity stops there. Entrainment pushes your whole brain into a pre-determined state, while neurofeedback teaches you how to move specific parts of your brain on your own. It is the differeence between forcing the brain into a given position, and skills building so you can move it there yourself.