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The Power of Sound: Soundwaves, Brainwaves, and Binaural Beats


The Therapeutic Use of Sound

Could reducing anxiousness, managing pain, and improving cognitive function be as easy as listening to music? Studies show that soundwaves may have a positive impact on our brainwaves, and could be a way to manage a variety of health concerns.

If you’re familiar with Sanesco’s health blog, you already know we talk a lot about how neurons communicate chemically via neurotransmitters. These chemical communications are also coupled with electrical impulses. The electrical activity in healthy brains is synchronized in order to correctly process information about the environment. These synchronized patterns are called brainwaves. There are several different types of brainwaves[1]

  • Delta waves are the lowest frequency wave (1-4 Hz) and occur during deep sleep
  • Theta waves (4-8 Hz) usually occur during lighter sleep. They are associated with creativity
  • Alpha waves (8-12 Hz) are also associated with creativity, as well as a relaxed yet alert state of mind
  • Beta waves (13-21 Hz) are the brainwaves people experience most often. They are related to concentration and focus, but excessive beta wave activity is associated with anxiousness and the fight-or-flight response.

Brainwave Entrainment

One way to alter brainwaves is through meditation. However, it can sometimes take a long time to cultivate a meditation practice and experience the health benefits it provides. Scientists have found a way to easily facilitate changes in brainwave activity through audio stimulation (specific tones and rhythms used with a headset) or visual stimulation (flashes or pulses of light).[2], [3] This stimulation is often referred to as brainwave entrainment.[4] Audio brainwave entrainment is achieved through binaural beats.

This phenomenon is the result of the brain’s interpretation of two different tones being received by each ear.[5] When two slightly different tones are played at the same time, the brain interprets the stimuli as one tone with the difference in frequencies from each ear.[6] For example, if a 300 Hz tone was played in one ear, and a 250 Hz tone was played in the other, the brain would perceive a 50 Hz tone.[7] The importance of this is that soundwaves in our environment can induce certain brainwaves; thus, binaural beats can be used to produce specific, desired types of brain waves.[8] The most common goal of brain entrainment is to produce alpha waves, as they are linked to feelings of relaxation.[9] Though most people produce these frequencies with their eyes closed, some cannot generate them naturally at all.[10]

Binaural Beats Therapy

The use of binaural beats and other types of brainwave entrainment have been shown to be therapeutic for a variety of health problems. For example, researchers have investigated the effects of brainwave entrainment on the verbal skills of children with focus issues. Children with focus issues who were exposed to alternating alpha and beta waves via audiovisual brain entrainment performed significantly better on standardized reading tests.[11] Another study on children with focus issues found that children had reduced impulsivity and inattention after brainwave entrainment.[12] One study using delta and theta waves, and two others using alpha waves found that brain entrainment significantly reduced anxiousness in adults.[13]

Several studies have also shown brainwave entrainment to reduce acute pain after surgery.[14] Presumably, by inducing brainwaves that facilitate relaxation, people perceive less discomfort and are less preoccupied with subjective pain feelings.[15] Research also indicates the potential for brainwave entrainment to reduce sleep issues.[16] These findings are very promising, as issues with sleep can increase the risk for other health problems.[17]

Brain entrainment may be an easy and effective therapy for people dealing with anxiousness, aches and discomfort, sleep disturbances, or focus issues.[18] It may also be an effective tool in meditation practices and stress management for anyone who needs a little help relaxing.

[1] Huang TL & Charton C. (2008). A comprehensive review of the psychological effects of brainwave entrainment. Alternative Therapies in Health Medicine, 14, 5, 38-50.

[2] Ossebard HC. (2000). Stress Reduction by Technology? An experimental study into the effects of brain machines on burnout and state anxiety. Applied Psychology and Biofeedback, 25, 2, 93-101.

[3] Huang & Charton op.cit.

[4] Huang & Charton op.cit.

[5] Chakalov I, Paraskevopoulos E, Wollbrink A, et. al. (2014). Mismatch negativity to acoustical illusion of beat: How and where the change detection takes place? NeuroImage 100, 337-346.

[6] Chakalov et. al. op.cit.

[7] Chakalov et. al. op.cit.

[8] Ossebard op.cit.

[9] Ossebard op.cit.

[10] Ossebard op.cit.

[11] Huang & Charton op.cit.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Huang & Charton op.cit., Ossebard op.cit.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ossebard op.cit.

[16] Tang Hsin-Yi, Vitiello MV, Perlis M, et. al. (2014). A Pilot Study of Audio–Visual Stimulation as a Self-Care Treatment for Insomnia in Adults with Insomnia and Chronic Pain. Applied Pyschophysiology and Biofeedback, 39, 219-225.

[17] Tang et. al. op.cit.

[18] Huang & Charton op.cit.


Clinical Contributor

Marina Braine

Clinical Support Specialist at Sanesco International, Inc.

Marina Braine is a Clinical Support Specialist at Sanesco. She graduated from UNC-Asheville with her Bachelors of Science in Biology with a minor in French. She likes to keep active by hiking, running, and contra dancing around Asheville.

Connie Shoemaker, ND

Connie Shoemaker, ND

“Educating Sanesco’s clients is the culmination of a life’s work.” Beginning when she left the hospital environment to manage a functional laboratory, Genova Diagnostics (formerly Great Smokies Laboratories) in 1987, Dr. Connie Shoemaker has continued to increase her knowledge of herbs and biochemistry as a journey of love. With her bachelor’s in science from Western Carolina University, she had worked in hospital laboratories for the first twelve years of her career. Then, personal health challenges led her to discover a new approach to her health and a determination to share it with others. In 1991, she began teaching and educating innovative practitioners in the U.S. and internationally as a manager of marketing, sales, and customer service.

The addition of her Doctor of Naturopathy degree to her existing knowledge base expanded her knowledge and her respect for a more natural approach to healing through balance. At Sanesco, she initially served to oversee technical development of products and services.

Now, she educates Sanesco’s clients on application of the CSM™ model for their specific patients and how to integrate the CSM™ model with other modalities they offer in their practice. In her personal life, Connie educates private clients on various health topics.

Disclaimer: The information provided is only intended to be general educational information to the public. It does not constitute medical advice. If you have specific questions about any medical matter or if you are suffering from any medical condition, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

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