For millions of people suffering from chronic pain around the world, finding relief is an uphill battle. Natural remedies, conventional therapies, and medications may help. But what about sound? You may have heard of binaural beats before and their reported therapeutic benefits. But how exactly do they work? What are they and how can they help with chronic pain? Let’s take a closer look.
What Are Binaural Beats?
Binaural beats are actually auditory illusions created by playing different sounds at different frequencies.
Two tones are played at different frequencies in each ear, triggering the brain to create a third sound at a different frequency. These binaural beats are believed to offer many of the same benefits as meditation, including relaxation and reduced stress. They may also help improve concentration.
How Do Binaural Beats Work?
How exactly do binaural beats work? It all comes down to how the brain processes sound. When different frequencies are heard in each ear, the brain perceives (creates the illusion) a third tone with a frequency that is the difference between the two tones that are being played.
Confused? Here’s an example.
Let’s say that a tone is played in your left ear at a frequency of 350 Hz and another tone in your right ear at a frequency of 360 Hz. Your brain would process these two sounds and create an illusionary third sound with a frequency of 10 Hz. That illusionary sound is the binaural beat and what you would hear.
Essentially, your brain interprets these two tones as a beat of its own.
But for binaural beats to work:
- The frequencies must be below 1,500 Hz
- The difference between the frequencies cannot be greater than 40 Hz
Researchers believe that listening to certain binaural beats can strengthen brain waves, which can affect brain functions that control your thoughts and feelings.
The effects will depend on the corresponding brain waves:
- 0.5-4 Hz: Delta waves, which occur when you’re in a deep sleep.
- 4-7 Hz: Theta waves, which occur in light stages of sleep or when you’re waking up.
- 8-12 Hz: Alpha waves, which occur when you're in a relaxed state (think meditation).
- 13-30 Hz: Beta waves, which occur when you’re awake and alert.
- 30-100 Hz: Gamma waves, which occur during creative activities or when cognitive function is enhanced.
When people use binaural beats for therapeutic purposes, they typically focus on beats that are in the 4-12 Hz range.
Binaural Beats Health Benefits
Binaural beats are believed to have many benefits, especially for those who are struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, and pain.
Many people claim that these beats can help your brain get into a meditative state more quickly and easily.
Some of the many benefits of binaural beats include:
May Reduce Anxiety
Because binaural beats can shift your brain waves into a more relaxed state, they may help reduce anxiety. In fact, much of the research on binaural beats has been focused on anxiety.
- One controlled study found that binaural beats reduced per-operative anxiety in 100 patients compared to no audio or audio without binaural tones. The group listening to binaural tones reduced their anxiety levels by 50%.
- Another randomized controlled trial found that binaural beats reduced anxiety in patients admitted to the emergency room compared to no audio or audio without binaural tones.
While more research is needed, these results are promising for people who suffer from anxiety.
May Improve Sleep
If binaural beats can impact your brain waves, then it’s not surprising that they may improve sleep.
In fact, research has shown that binaural beats at a frequency of 3 Hz induced delta activity, which lengthened deep sleep.
Another study found that binaural tones ranging from 2 Hz to 8 Hz improved sleep quality and ease of waking up in soccer players.
Many people use binaural beats to combat insomnia or poor sleep.
May Help with Pain
It makes sense that binaural beats can help you relax and even fall into a deep sleep, but can binaural beats help with chronic pain? Can sound really bring some relief? Maybe.
How Binaural Beats Can Help Chronic Pain
Three of the biggest purported benefits of binaural beats are reduced anxiety, better sleep, and less pain. This is a winning combination for people with chronic pain.
We’ve already looked at studies highlighting the effects of binaural beats on pain, but how do anxiety relief and improved sleep play fit into the picture?
Anxiety and Pain
Anxiety and pain appear to be interconnected, and it’s easy to see why.
- Anxiety can cause tension that further exacerbates pain.
- Pain can give you anxiety about feeling pain in the future, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and creates a vicious cycle.
- Pain can give you anxiety about doing certain activities, which leads to more pain due to inactivity.
Research supports the claim that anxiety and pain are closely linked.
If binaural beats can help you get into a more relaxed state, then it may also help bring some pain relief. Your body won’t be so tense, and your mind can – hopefully – shut off its constant chatter.
Living with chronic pain can be stressful and often makes it hard to look to the future with positivity. Using binaural beats to get into a relaxed state more quickly and easily may help reduce some of that stress while bringing some relief.
Sleep and Pain
Like anxiety, the connection between sleep and pain is well-known. Insufficient restorative sleep hinders your immune system and also impairs your cognitive function. Pain can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. It creates a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break.
One study found that 24 hours of total sleep deprivation impaired conditioned pain modulation and increased pain sensitivity to pressure.
The Bottom Line
There’s some evidence that binaural beats may help with chronic pain, anxiety, and sleep. The great thing about this therapy is that it’s easy to use, has no side effects, and it's free. You can find plenty of binaural beats at different frequencies on YouTube and music streaming platforms. All you need is a pair of earbuds and time.
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