Binaural Beats and Sleep


Written by Rebecca Levi

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Breus

Our Editorial Process

Table of Contents

Sound has long been used all over the world as a form of healing. Recently, there is growing interest in the science and potential benefits of binaural beats. Binaural beats are tones of two different frequencies played at the same time, one in each ear. 

Studies suggest that binaural beats may lead to improvements in mood, reductions in anxiety, and may even ease the listener into a relaxed, meditative state. Although research findings have been mixed thus far, binaural beats may offer a promising new approach to treating sleep issues. We share the latest information about this potential sound-based sleep aid.

What Are Binaural Beats?

A binaural beat is a sound illusion produced when you hear tones of different frequencies in the left and right ear simultaneously. Proponents of binaural beats suggest that the brain interprets the difference in the frequencies as a single beat. For example, when one tone is 310 hertz and the other is 300 hertz, the brain perceives a binaural beat of 10 hertz.  

To listen to binaural beats, you must use headphones. Upon hearing a different tone in each ear, your brain produces waves that align with the frequency of the binaural beat. This process is known as entrainment. Some researchers believe that patterns in brain waves can propel you into different moods and states of consciousness. 

Because each type of brain wave is associated with particular activities and levels of stimulation, some theorize that low frequency binaural beats might promote a relaxed state, while high frequency binaural beats may encourage alertness and concentration.

Binaural Beat FrequencyAssociated Brain Wave
Delta beats (0.5-4 hertz)Delta brain waves are linked to deep, slow wave sleep.
Theta beats (4-7 hertz)Theta brain waves are evident during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep where most dreams take place, as well as in meditative and creative states.
Alpha beats (8-12 hertz)Alpha brain waves are often present while a person is awake but relaxed.  
Beta beats (13-30 hertz)Beta brain waves are associated with alertness and the ability to concentrate. 
Gamma beats (30-80 hertz)Gamma brain waves are linked to learning and memory.

Binaural beats can only be detected when the frequency of each tone is less than 1000 hertz, and the difference in frequency between tones is less than 35 hertz. Researchers propose that the ideal tone is between 400 and 500 hertz and that sex and age may affect how you respond to binaural beats.

How Could Binaural Beats Improve Sleep?

Research is still early, but limited studies show that low-frequency binaural beats may be helpful for people with insomnia

Experts speculate that the connection between binaural beats and sleep may have to do with the effect of binaural beats on a person’s mood. Sleep experts assert that mood can affect sleep, and several studies have shown that binaural beats may improve mood.

Moreover, increasing relaxation is a common strategy to improve sleep. Research to date has demonstrated that binaural beats may bring on mental relaxation and enable listeners to slip into a mental state similar to meditation.

Binaural beats may also influence the stages of sleep. In fact, researchers are looking at ways to develop technologies that can reproduce binaural beats that sync to specific sleep stages. They hope to be able to induce brain waves required for deeper, more effective sleep.

Other Health Benefits of Binaural Beats

In addition to helping people sleep, researchers have explored the use of binaural beats for enhancing athletic performance, treating medical problems, and helping with mental health conditions, including anxiety. Research is ongoing, but results thus far have been mixed. 

Binaural beats are also being studied for their potential in enhancing certain cognitive functions, including:  

  • Alertness and focus 
  • Word recall 
  • Creativity

Another area of interest is the use of binaural beat stimulation before surgery. In one study, having people listen to binaural beats before an operation reduced their pre-surgery stress and anxiety.

While the effects of binaural beats seem promising, research is preliminary, and more clinical studies are needed to fully understand their impact on the body and mind.

Are There Side Effects to Using Binaural Beats?

There is limited information about the side effects of binaural beats. Experts do caution that repeated exposure to loud sounds can damage parts of the ear and contribute to temporary or permanent hearing loss. This means that people trying binaural beats should keep their headphones at a safe volume.

How to Use Binaural Beats to Sleep

Although there is no standard way to use binaural beats, research offers clues for how you can best incorporate this tool into your nightly routine. Relaxing before bed is an important part of healthy sleep hygiene, so consider listening to binaural beats as you are getting ready for bed and while you are sleeping.

Make sure to use headphones because binaural beats are designed to play different sound frequencies in each ear. 

The effects of binaural beats may depend on how long you listen. Binaural beats have been shown to be more effective with longer periods of listening, up to two hours, so it may be helpful to experiment with different lengths of time and see what works best for you. 

Binaural beat audio files are readily available online, and there is no need to be trained on how to use them. Therefore, binaural beats may offer an easy and non-invasive way to manage moods and improve your sleep. Remember that you should always consult a health care professional if you are concerned about your sleep quality.

About The Author

Rebecca Levi

Staff Writer, Sleep Health

With a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Indiana University Bloomington, Rebecca enjoys making accurate, up-to-date health information accessible to all readers. As a freelance writer and editor, she has covered everything from healthcare and experimental music to education. Rebecca lives in Tennessee, where she spends her free time reading, writing fiction, and making music.

  • POSITION: Side Sleeper
  • TEMPERATURE: Cold Sleeper
  • CHRONOTYPE: Dolphin

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