Binaural beat therapy is an emerging form of sound wave therapy. It makes use of the fact that the right and left ear each receive a slightly different frequency tone, yet the brain perceives these as a single tone.
Advocates of this type of therapy currently recommend it for the treatment of anxiety, stress, and related disorders. This self-help treatment is usually available in the form of audio recordings that a person listens to on stereo headphones.
However, research is inconclusive about the clinical benefits of binaural beat therapy, and a doctor does not oversee its delivery. Therefore, it is best not to replace traditional treatments for stress and anxiety with this type of intervention.
Binaural beat therapy is not part of standard care for any condition. Doctors consider this treatment to be semi-experimental.
In this article, we explain binaural beats and look at current research to assess their effectiveness. We also clarify how to use them.
According to a 2015 literature review, the tones should be at frequencies lower than 1,000 hertz (Hz) for the brain to detect the binaural beat. The binaural beat that a person perceives is the frequency difference between the waves entering the left and right ear.
For example, if the left ear registers a tone at 200 Hz and the right ear registers one at 210 Hz, the binaural beat is 10 Hz — the difference between the two frequencies.
The findings of a 2018 study suggest that listening to binaural beats for a recommended period can affect a person's subsequent behavior and sleep cycles.
The study authors explain that there are five different categories of frequency pattern:
- Delta pattern: Binaural beats in the delta pattern operate at a frequency of 0.5–4 Hz with links to a dreamless sleep. In the study, people who received a delta pattern frequency during sleep entered a deeper stage of sleep, according to electroencephalogram (EEG) brain scan results.
- Theta pattern: Practitioners set binaural beats in the theta pattern to a frequency of 4–7 Hz. Theta patterns contribute to improved meditation, creativity, and sleep in the rapid eye movement (REM) phase.
- Alpha pattern: Binaural beats in the alpha pattern are at a frequency of 7–13 Hz and may encourage relaxation.
- Beta pattern: Binaural beats in the beta pattern are at a frequency of 13–30 Hz. This frequency range may help promote concentration and alertness. However, it can also increase anxiety at the higher end of the range.
- Gamma pattern: This frequency pattern accounts for a range of 30–50 Hz. The study authors suggest that these frequencies promote maintenance of arousal while a person is awake.