Are binaural beats safe or not
Binaural Beats: Does Acoustic Relaxation Work?
Written by Jasmin Krsteski • Medical editor
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Music can bring a good mood, spur us on during sport or make us melancholy. But can sounds also relax us, focus us, take away fears and help with depressive moods? Binaural beats supposedly do. They are supposed to influence our brain waves and thus also us: make us more concentrated and creative, for example, or help us fall asleep. Does it work? We tried it out and asked a neuropsychologist about it.
If it's true that binaural beats can motivate me, this should be a pretty good article. I've just embarked on a ten minute sound journey designed to make me more positive and productive. "Promote concentration" was the name of the meditation in the "Sonamedic" app. Unlike most other meditation apps, it works with binaural beats. It offers different meditations: for falling asleep, for relaxation, for reducing fears or for motivation. A kind of acoustic hypnosis.
The science behind binaural beats
The German physicist Heinrich Wilhelm Dove discovered in 1839 that certain vibrations arise in our brain when we have slightly different frequencies played to both ears through headphones: binaural beats. Our brain turns this into an average frequency that only we can perceive.
Which headphones for binaural beats?
However, this only works if we hear the tones through stereo headphones. Usually, different frequencies already mix in the air and produce a sound that can also be heard by other people.
How should these tones affect us now?
The human brain works in five different frequency ranges, depending on whether we are awake or asleep or how active or relaxed we are. These brain waves can also be measured with an EEG.
These are the frequency ranges and the associated moods:
- Delta frequency range: 0.1 to 4 Hertz, state: dreamless deep sleep
- Theta frequency range: 4 to 8 Hertz, state: REM phase, light sleep phase, deep relaxation
- Alpha frequency range: 8 to 13 Hertz, state (with eyes closed): Relaxation, relaxation, imagination, memories
- Beta frequency range: 13 to 30 Hertz, state: waking consciousness, perception, everyday life, thinking, logic
- Gamma frequency range: Over 30 Hertz, condition: meditation, focus, concentration, learning, creativity
Binaural beats are supposed to put our brain in the desired frequency and thus in a certain state. In this way, they are supposed to promote various states of mind such as relaxation, sleep or concentration. That's the theory.
That happens during my sound journey
In practice, I choose either a meditation to help me relax or one to help me focus. So depending on the choice, I hear sounds with different frequencies.
In my case, it is "beta" frequencies at 16 Hertz that are supposed to increase my concentration. The virtual journey takes me to a summer flower garden. I'm told to focus on a particular flower, look closely at it, and tune out everything else. Spherical, almost sacred tones vibrate in my head. They sound bright, light and fresh.
The tone that results for me would not necessarily be nice or particularly pleasant, explains Philipp Hofheinz, co-founder of the Sonamedic app. "Some people do not perceive anything, while others hear a tone that is perceived as rather unpleasant." For this reason, the app uses "creative sound settings". So it is not the spherical sounds that I hear that are supposed to have the effect. I am not even aware of the crucial frequency.
Will the beats have any effect on me? I can't say for sure. I have already tried different meditation apps and have the feeling that the sounds make it easier for me to engage in meditation. After that, I actually feel refreshed, alert, clear and focused. Of course, I can't say whether it's because of the binaural beats or simply because I took a break for myself.
It makes sense to me that music can influence the mood. After all, as a music lover, I experience that myself every day. But these sounds should be able to do more. And many people seem to believe in it. The internet is full of well-clicked videos that promise relaxation and sleep aids with the help of binaural beats. But can you keep it up? We looked at the study situation and spoke to a neuropsychologist.
Reading tip:The best meditation apps
What do binaural beats bring?
In fact, some studies have looked at binaural beats. While some studies couldn't show an effect from binaural beats, other studies suggest that the beats do work.
For example, a study from the United States concluded that binaural beats can help people relax. The researchers divided 74 members of the military who complained of persistent stress after strenuous missions into two groups. One group heard music without binaural beats, the other group had binaural beats embedded in the music. Each group listened to "their" music for 30 minutes on three consecutive evenings a week for four weeks. Of course, the subjects did not know which group they belonged to. Before and after that, the scientists recorded the effects with a heart rate variability stress test. In addition, participants were asked to write down how they felt.
The result: the participants who listened to music with binaural beats showed a decreased sympathetic response, which indicates more relaxation. It was the other way around for the comparison group. The diaries also showed that participants exposed to binaural beats felt more relaxed. The researchers concluded that binaural beats can reduce stress and improve the quality of sleep.
In another study, researchers looked at whether binaural beats could help ease patients' fear of surgery. They concluded that the sounds can actually significantly reduce anxiety.
In a meta-analysis of 22 studies, scientists also come to the conclusion that binaural beats can have a positive influence on our memory, attention, fears and pain. Positive effects on learning and memory were most likely to be seen when listening to the beats before and during a task, not just during it. The study directors emphasize, however, that more research is needed to substantiate the results.
Prof. Dr. Stefan Koelsch like that. He is a psychologist, neuroscientist, professor of biological psychology, medical psychology and music psychology at the University of Bergen (Norway) and author of the book "Good Vibrations. The healing power of music". He is convinced that music has a huge impact on us and our health. In his opinion, however, the therapeutic effects of binaural beats have not been sufficiently scientifically proven. He also takes a critical view of the existing studies due to methodological deficiencies. Both fears and pain can be strongly influenced by placebos.
"It is possible that the stimulation of certain brain vibrations can have therapeutic effects and that such brain vibrations can be amplified by music," says Koelsch. However, little is known about this so far. "I think it is physiologically completely implausible that this can only happen with binaural beats. I see no reason why binaural beats should work better than monaural beats." Monaural beats are also created by mixing tones of two different frequencies. However, the mean value is not first generated in the brain, but heard as such.
In summary, it can be said: The positive effect of binaural beats has not yet been proven. There are simply too many unanswered questions for that. More meaningful studies are needed to explore the effects of binaural beats.
Are binaural beats dangerous?
But there is nothing against just trying it out. It is true that binaural beats are even traded as "auditory drugs" on the Internet. Side effects are just as little known as evidence that these digital drugs have an effect. "You cannot assume that binaural beats can have negative effects," says the neuropsychologist Koelsch.
You can listen here:
The "Sonamedic" app costs EUR 74.99 for one year or EUR 6.25 per month (14-day test phase). For 3 months 24.99 euros or 8.33 euros per month (7-day test phase).
There are many other apps that use binaural beats: "Binaural Beats" and "Brainwaves" for example. CDs with binaural beats are also available in abundance.
The pharmaceutical company Bayer has also developed titles with binaural beats that are supposed to help relieve headaches and relax.
There are also many videos with binaural beats on YouTube. With these, however, it is not always clear where they come from and what exactly was uploaded there.
Garcia ‐ Argibay, M., et al .: Efficacy of binaural auditory beats in cognition, anxiety, and pain perception: a meta ‐ analysis. Psychological Research, Vol.83, Iss.2, pp. 357-372 (March 2019)
Gantt, Melisa, A., et al .: The Effect of Binaural Beat Technology on the Cardiovascular Stress Response in Military Service Members With Postdeployment Stress, Journal of nursing scholarship. Vol 49, Iss. 4, pp. 411-420 (July 2017)
McConnell, P.A., et al .: Auditory driving of the autonomic nervous system: Listening to theta-frequency binaural beats post-exercise increases parasympathetic activation and sympathetic withdrawal, Frontiers in Psychology, Vol. 5, Issue 1248 (2014)
Karino, S., et al .: Neuromagnetic responses to binaural beat in human cerebral cortex. Journal of neurophysiology, Vol. 96, Iss.4, pp. 1927-1938 (October 2006)
Padmanabhan, R., et al .: A prospective, randomized, controlled study examining binaural beat audio and pre-operative anxiety in patients undergoing general anesthesia for day case surgery. Anaesthesia, Vol. 60, Iss. 9, pp. 874-7 (September 2005)
Oster, G .: Auditory Beats in the Brain. Scientific American, Vol. 229, Issue 4 (October 1973)Last content check:16.03.2021
Last change: 16.03.2021
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