Because the brain filters and interprets reality in a split-brained way, we tend to see things as separate and opposed, rather than as connected and part of the oneness spoken of by the great spiritual teachers (and, in the last few decades, by quantum mechanical physicists). Thus, at a deep level, the dual structure of our brain, in conjunction with brain lateralization, predisposes us to see and experience ourselves as separate from, and often in opposition to, the rest of the world—instead of experiencing the elegant interconnectedness between us and everything else. Our childhood associations and programming build on this inborn tendency by training us to seek this and avoid that, to move toward pleasure and away from pain, to do good and not bad, and so on. The greater the lateralization in the brain, the greater the feelings of separation—and the greater the feelings of separation, the greater the fear, stress, anxiety, and isolation.
Your brainwave activity during sleep is largely distinct from your brain activity when you’re awake. (REM sleep is one exception to this—during REM, your brain is active in ways very much like when you’re awake.) During non-REM sleep, the slower, lower frequency theta and delta waves dominate, compared to the alpha and beta waves that are prominent when you’re alert and active.
There is a lot to like about this technology as a potential treatment for sleep problems. It’s low impact and non-invasive, it doesn’t rely on chemical drugs, it’s inexpensive and for most people likely easy to adopt and maintain. In this way, it’s similar to the other behavioral therapies for sleep that I like so much, including meditation and relaxation techniques, and other mind-body therapies.
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.
The brain has two hemispheres that operate somewhat independently from one another. The two hemispheric structures of the brain are connected by a large nerve, called the corpus callosum, which sends information back and forth between the two sides of the brain. In most people, the left hemisphere controls language, logical thinking, and analytic processes and the right side contains the centers for emotion, intuition, and non-linear creative thinking.
In 1956, the famous neuroscientist W. Gray Walter published the results of studying thousands of test subjects using photic stimulation, showing their change in mental and emotional states. He also learned that photic stimulation not only altered brainwaves, but that these changes were occurring in areas of the brain outside of vision. In Walter’s words:
Neural oscillations are rhythmic or repetitive electrochemical activity in the brain and central nervous system. Such oscillations can be characterized by their frequency, amplitude and phase. Neural tissue can generate oscillatory activity driven by mechanisms within individual neurons, as well as by interactions between them. They may also adjust frequency to synchronize with the periodic vibration of external acoustic or visual stimuli.