What if we told you there was something that could improve your focus, alleviate pain, reduce anxiety, and help you sleep better at night? 

On top of that, it’s completely free and has seemingly zero side effects. 

Sounds like the best thing since sliced bread. 

And sounds are exactly what we’re talking about: a soundwave phenomenon known as binaural beats.

Binaural beats are actually an auditory illusion that occurs in your brainstem when you play two tones of similar but not identical frequencies, one in each ear (binaural means relating to both ears). 

What happens is the brain tries to harmonize the two sounds and what you end up hearing is actually a third tone produced entirely by your own brain. 

For example, if a 400 hertz (Hz) tone and a 410 Hz tone were played into your left and right ears, respectively, you would perceive a 10 Hz rhythmic pulse — the binaural beat. 

If you want to hear what they sound like, click here (it really only works with headphones). 

Basically the theory is if you listen to a certain sound, you can feel a certain way. 

“The attractiveness of binaural beats (in theory) is that this tiny difference between the two tones is going to entrain our brains to work at a desired frequency,” says Miguel Garcia-Argibay, a scientist at Örebro University in Sweden who researches binaural beats.

The idea is that by getting your brain to fire at the desired rate, you’ll enter into the corresponding mental state:

  • Gamma waves are the highest frequency at 30 hertz (Hz) and up, meaning neurons are firing at the rapid pace of 30 times or more every second. This brain state is associated with intense concentration.
  • Beta waves run at 12 Hz to 30 Hz and are tied to feelings of arousal, attention, and anxiety.
  • Alpha waves slow down to 8 Hz to 12 Hz and are related to a more relaxed and passively attentive state, as well as feeling drowsy.
  • Theta waves at 4 Hz to 8 Hz signify deep relaxation and are often detected during meditation.
  • Delta waves are the slowest, firing just 0.5 to 4 times per second. If you’re in delta waves, you’re probably asleep.

Scientists are very split on the efficacy of these ‘magical’ beats. 

A meta-analysis of 22 studies suggests that they can significantly reduce anxiety and boost attention. Another popular study showed that binaural beats had literally zero effect at all on brain function. 

Thousands of anecdotal accounts are available online with people claiming they were cured of diseases, inflammation, mental disorders, and more by utilizing the different healing frequencies found in binaural beats. 

So what is the deal? Do they work, or is it all musical malarkey? 

The truth is, we don’t know yet. 

Garcia-Argibay says one reason for these discrepancies is because there is no agreed-upon protocol for studying binaural beats, and each of the experiments uses different methods.

He also notes that scientists have long known that even a simple rhythmic sound, such as clapping, will entrain the brain. And right now, there is no concrete evidence that suggests binaural beats are particularly special. 

Yet thousands around the world swear by their magical powers.

There are dozens of studies occurring right now and as more information becomes available, we’ll be sure to update you. 

If you want to read more about how music can affect your brain be sure to check out this piece