Binaural Beats: Sleep and Meditation

By: Shannon Ullman

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In today’s world of constant hustle and chronic stress, we could all use a little more shut-eye. For those who find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, meditation and sound therapy may be of some help.

It’s well-documented that meditation is a powerful-stress reliever that can help ease anxiety and promote relaxation. But it often takes weeks to feel the benefits of a consistent practice in your sleep schedule and daily energy. Listening to a binaural beats sleep meditation can help speed up the process and put you in a similarly uber-calm and ready-for-bed state much faster.

Read on to learn more about binaural beats, how they work, and how you can use them to meditate your way to better sleep.

What are Binaural Beats?

Binaural beats are a type of auditory illusion created by playing two different tones of sound into each ear at the same time. The brain then merges the two tones into a single beat, which is the difference between the two frequencies.

For example, if you’re playing a binaural beat with a frequency of 210 Hz in one ear and 216 Hz in the other ear, your brain will process and merge those two frequencies into a single 6 Hz binaural beat—even though there’s no actual 6 Hz sound wave being played. Cool, right?

The binaural beat frequencies must be less than 1000 Hz, and the difference can’t be greater than 30 Hz for the brain to process them. You also must listen to the frequencies separately, with one going through each ear. This means playing a binaural beat meditation on your phone’s speaker won’t work—the two sides of the frequencies need to go into each ear individually using headphones.

The idea behind using binaural beats is to train your brainwaves to match a certain frequency to encourage a desired state. For example, if you want to feel more relaxed and ease anxiety, you would use a binaural beat between 8 to 13 Hz.

Health Benefits from Binaural Beat Therapy

Binaural beats are a relatively new player in the field of sleep wellness, but they do have some promising studies backing up their efficacy.

  • They may reduce anxiety. One small study found that listening to binaural beats prior to undergoing surgery reduced feelings of anxiety. Another found that patients admitted to the emergency department reported lower levels of anxiety after listening to a binaural beat soundtrack.
  • They may increase focus and improve performance. One study asked participants to complete a “vigilance task” while listening to binaural beats ranging from 16-24 Hz. The results found that listening to the beats not only increased more correct target detections but also reduced negative moods.
  • They may foster a more positive mood and perspective. Another study found that listening to a binaural beat CD with a lower delta frequency (between 1-4 Hz) for two months reduced participants’ anxiety as well as increased their overall quality of life.
  • They may induce sleep. Research has shown that when combined with Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (also known as ASMR), binaural beats can trigger the brain signals necessary for sleep.

While more human studies are needed to understand all of the potential benefits, binaural beats are a promising tool in the battle against sleeplessness.

How to Use Binaural Beats

The best thing about binaural beats is that they’re easy to try and have no known side effects (as long as you keep your volume below 85 decibels, as chronic exposure can cause hearing loss). All you need is a pair of headphones and a binaural beat recording to lull yourself into a more relaxed state.

There is a plethora of binaural beats sleep recordings available online, and choosing one will depend on what state you’re trying to achieve. Different frequencies induce different states:

  • Frequencies between 1-4 Hz (also known as delta) are known for promoting deep sleep and relaxation.
  • Frequencies between 4-8 Hz (also known as theta) are known for encouraging REM sleep, reducing anxiety, and promoting both meditative and creative states.
  • Frequencies between 8-13 Hz (also known as alpha) are known for encouraging relaxation and promoting more positivity.
  • Frequencies between 14-30 Hz (also known as beta) are known for increasing concentration, alertness, problem-solving skills, and memory recall.

Once you’ve decided which state you want to achieve, find a recording with the corresponding frequency. YouTube, Spotify, and other streaming services have tons of free binaural beats recordings from which to choose. Once you’ve found the perfect track, pop on your headphones, sit or lie down in a comfortable position and hit play.

You should start to feel the effects within minutes, and you can continue listening for as long as you like.

Other Meditation Types for Sleep

Binaural beats are not the only auditory option out there. If you’re not a fan of headphones or prefer a more guided meditation, consider trying one of these types of meditation:

  • ASMR: Autonomous sensory meridian response is a term used to describe the feeling of “tingles” often associated with a sense of relaxation. ASMR recordings usually include soft, whispered sounds like crinkling paper or light tapping.
  • Meditation apps: There are many different meditation apps available with a variety of guided meditations to choose from. Some popular examples include Headspace and Calm.
  • Mantras: A mantra is a word or phrase that is repeated over and over again. The repetition of the mantra can help to still the mind and allow you to focus on the present moment.
  • Gentle yoga: Some easy bedtime yoga can help to stretch out the body, release tension, and promote relaxation.
  • Visualization: Picturing a calming scene in your mind—like a beach vacation or a quiet forest—and focusing on the details can help to promote relaxation.
  • Hypnosis: While it may conjure up images of swinging pocket watches, hypnosis is actually a state of deep relaxation. Guided hypnosis recordings can be used to help people overcome fears and phobias as well as promote better sleep.

Takeaway

Sleep is essential for our overall health and well-being, but it can be elusive. Listening to binaural beats is a simple, fast way to promote relaxation and better sleep.

So if you struggle to get some shut-eye, consider giving binaural beats a try. It just might be the key to catching some much-needed Zzzs.

Sources

Black D, et al. (2015). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2110998

Harvard Medical School. (2014). Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967

Lane J,et al. (1998). Binaural auditory beats affect vigilance performance and mood [Abstract]. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9423966/

Lee M, et al. (2019). Possible effect of binaural beat combined with autonomous sensory meridian response for inducing sleep. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2019.00425/full

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (2022). Noise-induced hearing loss. https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/noise-induced-hearing-loss

Padmanabhan A, et al. (2005).  A prospective, randomized, controlled study examining binaural beat audio and pre-operative anxiety in patients undergoing general anesthesia for day case surgery. https://associationofanaesthetists-publications.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2044.2005.04287.x

Wahbeh H, et al. (2007). Binaural beat technology in humans: A pilot study to assess psychologic and physiologic effects. http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2006.6196

Weiland T, et al. (2011). Original sound compositions reduce anxiety in emergency department patients: A randomized controlled trial [Abstract]. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22171868/