Binaural Beats and Sleep

What are binaural beats and how can they help you sleep better?

By Andrea Pisani Babich

Apr 19th, 2022

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Your brain is a pretty amazing piece of technology. Besides all the obvious stuff your brain does as the command center for your body and mind, it has some really cool skills that you may not even be aware of, but they play vital roles in your everyday life.

Today we’re going to talk about an astonishing trick of the brain that can actually help you sleep and perform better. It’s an aural phenomenon perceived by your brain that can adjust the frequency of your brainwaves to optimize your performance in a variety of states. The phenomenon is called binaural beats, and it acts like a metronome for your brainwaves to help you sleep, concentrate, and solve problems.

Since we’re concerned with sleeping better, let’s focus on how binaural beats can help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

How Do Binaural Beats Work?

Remember back in physics class when you learned about sound waves? Let’s brush the cobwebs off and review.

Sound waves are measured in frequency, which refers to the number of waves that pass a fixed point per second. Different sounds have different frequencies expressed in Hertz (Hz). Brainwave activity is also expressed in terms of frequency. For instance, when you are in deep sleep stages, your brain produces Delta waves with a frequency between 1.5 and 4 Hz.

You can help your brain achieve this state by listening to tones with slightly different frequencies through headphones or earbuds. When one ear hears, say, a 244-Hz tone and the other hears a 240-Hz tone, the 4-Hz discrepancy creates a binaural beat.

You can’t actually hear a 4-Hz tone – the frequency is too low – but you can hear the audio wobble or beat created when the two slightly different tones are added together. You can clearly hear the beat when the sound waves are combined through the air and they hit your eardrums together. But when you listen to the two tones through stereo headphones or earbuds, each ear hears something a little different. In this case, your brain adds the two tones together and perceives the resulting binaural beat.

That’s pretty cool by itself, but the really cool thing, and the one that’s most important to people who are sleep-deprived, is that your brainwave activity tends to synchronize to the frequency of the beat it perceives through the “frequency following response process.”

Think of it as your brain trying to dance to the beat created by the discrepancy between the two tones in each ear. By lowering your brainwave frequencies, low-frequency binaural beats can help you achieve the proper state of mind to induce sound sleep.

Binaural Beats Sleep Therapy

Proponents of binaural beats sleep therapy recommend listening to binaural beats soundtracks an hour or two before bedtime for about 30 minutes. Be sure to avoid all other distractions such as the TV, reading email, catching up on Facebook, etc. Your brain will not synchronize to the lower frequency if it is otherwise stimulated.

You may not feel the effects right away, but at the very least, the sounds will soothe you and help you relax before sleep. At best, your brain will respond to the lower frequency and you will drift into blissful sleep.

According to mental health therapist and life coach Deb Smith, in order to get the full effect of binaural beat therapy, it’s best to repeat the process for 30 to 45 days. This will train your brain to slow brainwave activity around bedtime, making you feel more sleepy and ready for deep sleep.

Binaural beats controversy

There is some controversy about the effectiveness of binaural beats in altering brain states including those associated with sleep stages. But small studies have produced promising results among participants including elite soccer players and subjects in a study conducted by researchers from the National College of Natural Medicine.

Researchers continue to conduct more studies to find conclusive evidence that binaural beats can effectively combat insomnia and other sleep challenges. In the meantime, these initial studies are intriguing and anecdotal evidence – see comments on the YouTube videos below – suggests binaural beats may be the next best 100% drug-free sleep aid.

How Can I Try Binaural Beats Therapy?

A quick YouTube search of “binaural beats” will yield plenty of results you can sample. Here are a few of my favorites:

Don’t forget your stereo earbuds!

Online outlets also offer full sleep therapy programs such as:

Binaural Beats FAQ

How long should you listen to binaural beats to fall asleep?

Experts in the field suggest listening to binaural beats through headphones for at least 30 minutes.

Where can I find more research on binaural beats?

The National Library of Medicine has numerous studies on binaural beats.

A note from the author:

I have written several Mattress Advisor articles, including this one, while listening to 14 Hz binaural beats. The tracks are very soothing and definitely helped me focus. Many others have commented that they sleep much better after listening to binaural beats tracks. Check it out and let us know in the comments below if binaural beats have helped you sleep better.