Binaural beats are an auditory illusion, where a tone is played to one ear while another tone of a slightly different frequency (no more than 30-40 Hz difference) is played to the other ear. The brain actually ends up perceiving a third tone on top of the two tones that are being played.
Enthusiasts of binaural beats claim that listening to these tones can have different effects on the brain, depending on how different the frequencies are. The most commonly cited effects are increased attention/concentration (around 40 Hz) and relaxation (around 10 Hz) – however, others have claimed that other frequencies can also help with improving REM sleep, decreasing anxiety, unlocking creative states, and promoting positivity.
One study, published in Nature, found that listening to binaural beats at 40 Hz while training for an attention-based task had a higher success rate than the control group, but only when multiple training sessions were split up over several days. The researchers theorized that, although the participants were listening to the sounds while learning the task, sleep still played an important role.
A separate study looked at the role of binaural beats in approving attention in children with ADHD, assigning participants to either listen to a tape with binaural beats or random pink noise for 20 minutes three times per week. The researchers didn’t find a marked improvement on attention in either groups, however, they didn’t report what the Hz difference of the binaural beats was, so it’s difficult to say why this was the case.
How to use binaural beats
There aren’t really any approved guidelines for using binaural beats, however, the studies that have been done seem to agree that it should be used at least daily over a period of time. To get the full effect, these tones need to be played via headphones (so each ear only hears one tone) and in a quiet environment.
It’s never considered a good idea to keep headphones on for an extended period of time, so if you do choose to listen to these tones to help you with your productivity throughout the day be sure to give your ears plenty of breaks. Also be on the lookout for headaches and/or irritability – that may be a sign that your ears have had enough.
Some frequencies are also thought to contribute to anxiety, like in the 20-30 Hz range, so if you find this happening to yourself it might be a sign to change the frequencies you’re listening to, or try a different productivity method all together.