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Binaural Beats Sleep Hack: Does it Really Work According to Research?

by Elliot Reimers, CNC, M.S. Candidate | Reviewed by Advisory Board

Binaural Beats Sleep Hack: Does it Really Work According to Research?

There is a growing interest among the "biohacker” community in using binaural beats for sleep and beating (no pun intended) insomnia naturally. However, the concept of using binaural beats for sleep has been around for quite some time;  studies of binaural beats go back to the mid-1900s [1]. 

People are likely becoming more vigilant about using things like natural sleep aid pills and sleep hacks now that there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence showing just how important quality sleep is for our health and longevity [2]. 

After all, sleep deprivation is a surefire way to start the day grumpy, lethargic, and irritable. (Not to mention the ramifications it can have on recovery, metabolism, and muscle growth.) 

While prescription sleep aids can certainly help, many users find that they have extremely vivid dreams and never fully wake up the following day because of how powerful the drugs are - almost as if being in a perpetual mental haze. 

The good news is binaural beats work by improving sleep naturally, according to multiple human studies that we will cover in this article. 

Even better, binaural beats aren’t just for sleep. Some people use binaural beats for focus and anxiety relief throughout the day. Heck, you can even listen to binaural beats for meditating - a proven strategy for improving mental health [3].

Intrigued? You should be!

But how do binaural beats work? What exactly are binaural beats?

Let's get you all caught up on the trendy binaural beats sleep hack and how you can use it for optimal sack time.

What are Binaural Beats

The term “binaural beats” is used to describe subjective hearing sensations that occur as a result of listening to two (or more) pure tones that have slightly different pitches and low frequencies. 

The reason they are binaural” is because each ear must receive a dedicated tone. Hence, you will need headphones to properly use binaural beats for sleep, mood, and mental performance. 

binaural beats

Binaural Beat Frequencies

The goal with binaural beats is to reach a state where your brainwave frequencies are operating near the same level as the stimulus sound wave frequencies. 

For example, alpha brainwave frequencies are in the 8-12 hertz (Hz) range and where we are most relaxed, mindful, and tranquil. This is one reason L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, is commonly used as an over-the-counter sleep aid and nootropic supplement.

At even lower frequencies are theta and delta brainwaves, where the deepest stages of sleep occur.

Here’s a handy list that summarizes the different brainwave frequencies and the mental state they generally correspond to:

  • 1 - 2 Hz (Delta) | REM sleep (deepest sleep stage) 
  • 3 Hz (Delta) | Deep, dreamless sleep 
  • 4 - 6 Hz (Theta) | Deep relaxation/meditation (or non-REM sleep)
  • 7 Hz (Theta) | Fantasy/daydreaming 
  • 8 - 12  Hz (Alpha) | Tranquil and awake relaxation (some REM sleep and dreaming occurs here as well)
  • 13 - 23 Hz (Beta) | Focused and mentally alert
  • 24 -30 Hz (Beta) | Active/exercising 
  • 31 - 39 Hz (Beta) | Anxiety/fear/paranoia
  • >40 Hz (Gamma) | Higher consciousness/perception/problem solving

To fall asleep, we need to get our brainwaves to change from our normal waking state, which is mostly in the alpha and beta ranges, to the penultimate theta state (and then all the way to the delta state for truly restorative sleep).

Binaural beats are a scientifically-backed way to expedite this transition into the lower brainwave frequencies, allowing you to get to the theta-delta ranges quicker and sleep like a rock. 

Now, if the thought of subjugating yourself to eerie, monotonous pure tones before calling it a night sounds awful, binaural beats don’t need much loudness to be effective. Better yet, most binaural beats audio sessions will have some light calming sounds playing in the background, such as rain dropping or forest ambiance.

At times, you’ll barely even hear the binaural beat sounds themselves, but don’t worry, they are there working their magic.

And due to their noninvasive nature, you can implement binaural beats sleep sounds with other sleep hacks and over-the-counter sleep aid pills

How Do Binaural Beats Work?

binaural beat frequencies

Binaural beats work by entraining the fundamental electrical activity patterns in your brain (i.e. brainwaves) without the need for medication.

When you play distinct tones that have nearly identical pitches and low frequencies, there is actually no physical interaction between the sound waves. However, when you transmit these sounds to each ear in a separate fashion, they produce interference in the brain and effectively alter brainwave frequencies. 

Technically, the terms “pitch” and “frequency” can be used somewhat interchangeably. Pitch is the auditory sensation of a sound's frequency (sound wave). A low-pitch sound corresponds to a low-frequency sound wave; a high-pitch frequency corresponds to a high-frequency sound wave.

Quite simply, binaural beats are an auditory mechanism for entertaining intrinsic brainwave frequencies. This process is sometimes referred to as brain synchronization or brainwave entrainment - the aim is to align brainwave frequency with the frequency of the stimulus sound wave(s). 

Thus, when you’re using binaural beats sleep sounds for unwinding before bed, you want to get your brainwaves down to the theta range initially, and subsequently, the delta range where we achieve the deepest sleep.

Binaural Beats Studies: What Does Research Have to Say?

Despite only recently becoming a more mainstream sleep hack, binaural beats have been a focus of neuroscience and psychological research for quite some time. Several contemporary human studies have shown that listening to binaural beats between 2-8 Hz help improve perceived sleep quality and mood while awake [4, 5]. 

Moreover, recent electroencephalography (EEG) data has confirmed that binaural beats in the 2-8 Hz range can indeed increase theta and delta brainwave activity [6]. These findings corroborate the postulation that binaural beats produce mind-altering effects comparable to meditation. 

However, not all subjects in these studies responded favorably to binaural beats, and some even experienced a reduction in their theta and delta brainwave activity. The researchers posit that this was a consequence of subjects not being able to relax since this was their first experience using binaural beats for sleep. 

Nevertheless, further evidence suggests that binaural beats can help facilitate meditation in novice meditators and may even reduce feelings of depression and anxiety [7, 8].

Suffice to say, there's a growing body of literature to support the claim that binaural beats can improve sleep and mental health. 

How-To: Binaural Beats Sleep Hacks

small chalk board

First things first, to hack your sleep with binaural beats you’ll need a pair of headphones or earbuds. If you find headphones uncomfortable to sleep with, opt for earbuds (wireless ones tend to be the best since they won’t get tangled while you're snoozing). 

Based on the binaural beats studies mentioned above, the majority of people will only need 15-30 minutes of binaural beat stimulation to enter a more restful state before bed. 

Once you have your headphones ready to go, make sure you create an environment conducive to restful sleep (i.e. free from bright light and distractions) and lie down in your bed. 

Now, there are a few options for listening to binaural beat sleep sounds. You can simply search on YouTube for “Binaural Beats Sleep” and a myriad of results will pop up. Using your PC/tablet/smartphone, click on a video, and listen through your headphones while closing your eyes.

Alternatively, you can find binaural beats audio sessions through many music streaming services, like this album of Binaural Beats Sleeping Music on Spotify, and dedicated meditation apps, such as the Calm app.

Listening to binaural beats sleep sounds might seem awkward or maybe even distracting initially, but try to focus instead on taking deep belly breaths, just like you would while meditating. “Empty your mind,” as the late Bruce Lee once quipped. The binaural beats will become more like background noise.

As the binaural beats continue to play, you will transition into the theta state where your eyes grow heavier and your heart rate slowly decreases.

At this point, you may remove your headphones/earbuds and nod off without any further binaural beat sleep sounds. Some people will fall asleep before that happens, which is certainly fine. 

Binaural Beats for Reducing Anxiety

If you’re feeling especially anxious during the day and struggling to calm down, binaural beats can help. Anxiety tends to be at its worst when you're operating in the higher alpha brainwave state, so the key is to use binaural beats in the beta frequency range as this reduces anxiety and promotes calmness without the associated drowsiness most people experience in the delta and theta states.

Furthermore, using an adaptogenic herb, like ashwagandha powder, in conjunction with binaural beats creates the perfect one-two punch to knock your anxiety down for the count. 

Binaural Beats Sleep: Nothing to Lose & Everything to Gain

Ultimately, there is a compelling scientific rationale for using binaural beats as a natural sleep hack. Studies thus far show that as few as 15 minutes of binaural beat stimulation before bedtime can help people fall asleep faster and improve the quality of their sleep.binaural beats sleep hacks 

Binaural beats can also help improve focus, reduce anxiety, and lift mood regardless of the time of day. Thanks to the versatility of binaural beats and nootropic supplements, you can combine the two seamlessly to achieve your desired mental state.

For improving sleep, a well-formulated natural sleep aid like Transparent Labs Sleep Aid and binaural beat sleep sounds is quite a combo for hacking your brain into dreamland. 

It might take some time to get used to binaural beats sleep sounds before bedtime, but once you acclimate to them, you’ll wonder why you didn’t try them sooner.




Elliot Reimers, CNC, M.S. Candidate
Elliot Reimers, CNC, M.S. Candidate

Author

Elliot is a NASM Certified Nutrition Coach (CNC) and M.S. candidate in the Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology program at Michigan State University. After obtaining his B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Minnesota in 2013, Elliot began freelance writing and has since written 100s of articles pertaining to nutritional science, dietary supplements, exercise physiology, and health/wellness. As an inveterate “science nerd,” he loves helping people understand how nutrients, supplements, and exercise work on a cellular and molecular level so they can be smarter about what they put in - and do to - their bodies. When he's not busy writing or studying, you can find Elliot pumping iron, hiking the mountains of beautiful Colorado, or playing the piano.



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