Want Improved Focus and Better Sleep? Try Binaural Beats (Playlist Inside)
By: Deanna deBara
- When you listen to two different frequencies in each ear, your brain produces a third frequency to compensate for the difference — and that’s what’s called a binaural beat
- You can use binaural beats to change the frequency of your brainwaves — and produce specific brain states in the process
- Binaural beats can be used to enhance performance, increase focus, and help you get better sleep
When it comes to music, it seems like there’s a playlist for every kind of mood — ‘90s hip hop if you’re feeling nostalgic, classical if you want to relax, dubstep if you want to get pumped for a workout.
But if you want to maximize your performance, increase your focus, and get better sleep, there’s only one playlist you need — and that’s binaural beats brainwave entrainment technology.
Binaural beats have been shown to increase focus, improve memory, and help you get better (and deeper) sleep.
But what, exactly, are binaural beats? How do they work? What are the benefits of binaural beats — and how can you use them to hack your brain and maximize your performance?
Related: Discover more ways to boost your brain power with this Next-Level Nootropics guide
What are binaural beats?
All sound has a frequency. When you put on headphones and listen to two sounds with different frequencies — one in your left ear and one in your right ear — your brain compensates for the difference and produces a third frequency. That third frequency is the binaural beat.
“When you play two separate frequencies in each ear, say 140 Hz and 149 Hz, the difference in frequency is 9 Hz. Your brain compensates for this difference, and a third tone of 9 Hz is experienced,” says Niraj Naik, founder of Trpynaural, a resource for binaural tracks. “This will result in your brain being raised or lowered and tuned into the desired frequency. This is how binaural beats are produced.”
How do binaural beats work?
“One of the best ways to explain how brainwave entrainment works is by observing the effect of a tuning fork on a guitar string,” says Naik. “Hit a tuning fork tuned to a particular sound frequency, such as the note C, and hold it close to the strings of a guitar. You will notice that the C string on the guitar starts to vibrate because it has entrained on to the same frequency of the tuning fork.”
“Like the pulses of vibration that produce sound on a guitar string, your brain also creates pulses of vibrations. These vibrations are electrical impulses,” continues Naik. “Their activity can be measured by using an EEG (electroencephalogram), which measures the frequency of these pulses [which is measured in Hertz]. 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,” finishes Naik.
There are five main categories of brainwave frequencies: Gamma (40Hz+), Beta (13 – 40Hz), Alpha (7 – 13Hz), Theta (4 – 7Hz), and Delta (<4Hz). Each category is associated with a different state of mind; so, for example, when you’re in a peak state of performance, your brain produces Alpha Waves, and when you’re in a deep sleep, your brain produces Delta Waves.
Binaural beats change the frequency of your brainwaves, giving you control over which category you experience at any given moment. And because you’re in the driver’s seat — and producing specific frequencies to induce a specific state of mind — you can use binaural beats to boost performance, increase focus, get better sleep… the possibilities are endless. “There’s an infinite number of variations on how you could use this kind of technology,” says Bill Harris, Director of Centerpointe Research Institute and creator of auditory brainwave training program Holosync.
Do binaural beats work?
Now, if you’re reading this and thinking, “This all sounds well and good, but cut to the chase… do binaural beats actually work?”
The answer is yes — across the board.
Using binaural beats for sleep
One of the most popular ways to use binaural beats is hacking your way to better Zzzs. Listening to a Delta binaural beats session right before your head hits the pillow — and continuing into your sleep time — can prep your brain for better (and deeper) sleep.
“For getting into a deep sleep state, you want to bring your brain into deep delta frequencies.” says Naik. “A normal session would take you from a waking beta state, through alpha and then down into theta and delta over a period of 30 minutes to one hour.”
One study found that participants reported improved sleep quality and a better state upon waking when they used binaural beats during sleep (between 2 and 8Hz) for eight weeks — while participants who weren’t using binaural beats reported no changes in their overall sleep quality.
Using binaural beats for relaxation
There’s no denying it’s stressful out there, and if you want to keep stress at bay (and all the negative health effects that come along with it), you need tools to help yourself relax. And one of those tools? Binaural beats.
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 binaural beats,] the parasympathetic nervous system, the source of rest and relaxation and that sort of thing, is being enhanced, and that sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight side of the nervous system, is being slowed down,” says Harris.
“When you turn down the sympathetic nervous system and you have less stress, there’s less inflammation in your body, there’s less dangerous nerve chemicals and dangerous hormones being created.”
Using binaural beats for focus
If you’re looking to increase your focus and attention during the day, you might want to work a binaural beats playlist into your schedule. One study found that binaural beats in the gamma range increase cognitive flexibility — a key component in focus and concentration.
“For hyper-focus, motivation, and energy you want to stimulate high gamma brainwave frequencies. A frequency of 18hz has been very effective for improving chronic fatigue and as a replacement for caffeine,” says Naik.
Using binaural beats for meditation
You already know that meditation is a non-negotiable for peak performance. But if you struggle to get into the zone, binaural beats could be a solid shortcut.
“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.”
If you want to improve your meditation practice — and reap the rewards faster — try throwing binaural beats into the mix. “What we find is that people who use Holosync [binaural beats] get the same benefits as people who meditate for decades, but they get it eight times faster,” says Harris.
Related: The Biohacker’s Guide to Meditation and Flow States
Tips for maximizing the benefits of binaural beats
Now that you’re on board with the benefits of binaural beats, let’s go over a few tips to use them to maximum effect:
- Always use headphones. In order for binaural beats to work, you need to listen to different frequencies in each ear — and that only works if you have headphones.
- Make sure you’re listening to the right binaural beats. Different frequencies produce different effects, so make sure you’re listening to the right binaural beats to get the effect you’re after. For example, if you’re looking to improve sleep quality, look for delta binaural beats. If you’re looking to improve concentration, go for alpha.
- Give yourself time. Binaural beats don’t change your brainwaves the second you pop in your headphones. If you want to see real results from binaural beats, give yourself time. Work binaural beats into your daily schedule and track your results over a six-week period before making any judgments.
The best binaural beats on Spotify
Ready to use binaural beats to get smarter, increase your focus, and get better sleep? Then check out this binaural beats playlist on Spotify:
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