In today’s fast paced society, sometimes getting to sleep can be a bit of a challenge. Worries and restlessness have a tendency to intermingle with sounds and noises, making sleep somewhat elusive for part of the population. For others, sleep may come easily, but can be of poor quality. These are the people who sleep all night, but wake up exhausted. Perhaps they awaken several times in the middle of the night and are unable to go back to sleep, or maybe they can never get into a deep sleep even though they sleep for the whole night. Whatever the reason, sleeping troubles tend to plague our society. There are many interventions and suggestions to remedy sleep. Use aromatherapy with lavender or vanilla. Get a weighted blanket. Practice healthy sleep hygiene. Drink a warm glass of milk before bed. Another lesser known interventions that has gotten recent attention is binaural beats therapy.
Binaural beats therapy involves the manipulation of sounds, where the right and left ears receive sounds that have two slightly different tones. The ear processes the two sounds, which have minimally different frequencies, and ends up perceiving them as one tone. The tone that the ears perceive is the difference between the two frequencies. For example, if the left ear receives a tone at 300 Hz and the right ear receives a tone at 310 Hz, the ears process the binaural beat as 10Hz.
The idea behind binaural beats therapy is that they can impact levels of arousal in different areas of the brain. The impact of arousal is directly linked to the frequency patterns of the sounds received. There are four types of frequency patterns, including Delta patterns, Theta patterns, Alpha patterns, and Beat patterns. Delta patterns are associated with dreamless sleep, Theta patterns with REM sleep, Alpha patterns with relaxation, and Beta patterns with concentration and vigilance.
Binaural beats therapy can have several uses including anxiety reduction, increased levels of relaxation and meditation, or an elevation in concentration. Other benefits may include stress reduction, increased focus and motivation, and enhanced moods.
Binaural beats therapy needs to take place in a calm and quiet location for at least 15-30 minute duration. Stereo headphones are necessary so that each ear can hear the tones in a different frequency. Binaural beats therapy should never be employed when one is engaged in a task requiring complete attention.
Some research has been done to assess the effectiveness of binaural beats therapy. Some studies have found that binaural beats can have a positive impact on the body by enhancing the production of melatonin and by reducing cortisol levels. Other research has shown that binaural beats can reduce anxiety and cause positive mood changes. Advocates of binaural beats therapy liken its impact with meditation and promote that it is a self-help modality that is easily accessible and readily available to all individuals. The range of binaural beat patterns can easily be individualized to accommodate a person’s specific purposes.
Research concludes that there are no aversive consequences or side effects from engaging in binaural beats therapy. However, research on the overall effectiveness of binaural beats therapy remains inconclusive. Further research is necessary to find out if binaural beats therapy truly improves a person’s sleep quality.
At the end of the day, there are many different sleep enhancement interventions out there. While some people swear by a spritz of lavender on their pillow, or a cup of chamomile tea before bed, others maintain that these are useless interventions and proceed to toss and turn all night. Binaural beats therapy is another option to consider. Some individuals may love it and fall into restful slumber, while others may end up being on a different wavelength, with a totally conflicting frequency.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.