People occasionally ask whether listening to binaural beats can cause side effects.
Considering that this type of music can alter brain state, it is a reasonable question.
In this post we will look at how this technology works, and what, if any, the associated health risks are.
Binaural beats are frequencies (sound waves). When a user puts on headphones, one frequency is sent to the left ear, and one frequency is sent to the right ear.
When the brain receives the two frequencies from the left and right ears, it interprets these two different frequencies as one consistent, rhythmic frequency, known as a binaural beat(s).
The frequency it interprets is the mathematical difference between the two frequencies initially sent to the left and right ears.
So let's say we send a frequency of 205 Hz to the right ear, and a frequency of 200 Hz to the left ear, the mathematical difference is 5 Hz.
This is the frequency the brain will follow along at.
The scientific term for this process is ‘frequency following response'. It's a process that occurs naturally in the brain.
We have a guide that goes into greater depth on how binaural beats were discovered, how they work, and how you can get the most out of your listening experience. You can download that here.
But for now, let's explore what these frequencies are and whether they can harm us in any way.
Binaural Beats Side Effects
Reports of side effects from using binaural beats are extremely rare, and there have been no negative reports from the numerous research studies conducted in this area.
A small percentage of users report physical effects related to the release of stress and tension in the body, such as muscle tingling and wanting to take a nap.
This release is quite normal for someone who has been suffering from stress or muscular tension for sometime. Such effects are commonly reported in meditation practice.
The most dangerous thing about binaural beats is the same as listening to music, and that is listening too loud.
Listening to sound for a long period of time at or above 85 decibels may cause hearing loss in the long term.
For reference, this is approximately the level of noise you would experience being close to heavy traffic.
Turning the volume up louder than is necessary will not improve the effectiveness of binaural beats. Keep the music at a comfortable level, as you would with normal music.
What is a Binaural Beat Made Of?
If you listen to a naked binaural beat (without a music overlay), it sounds like a humming sound, with a slight pulsation.
This pulsating sound occurs when the frequencies are combined by the brain and the binaural beat is created.
If you remove one of your headphones while listening to a raw binaural beats tone – left or right ear – you'll hear the pulsation disappear and the sound become one flat hum.
The sound waves that make up a binaural beat are nothing more than sine waves.
In music, a sine wave is a smooth repetitive oscillation: Imagine a long, flat bass note with no melody.
A sine wave is identified by the human ear as a single frequency, with no harmonics.
Because binaural beats combine two sine waves, there is a subtle, recognizable harmony that occurs, along with a slight pulsation in rhythm.
The sound pattern that creates a sine wave occurs in nature, in ocean waves for example; and in music, bass sounds for example.
In short, we are used to hearing frequencies like this. It is basically just a sound that lacks harmonics (any notable melody).
This is why it is high unlikely that a listening could do you any harm.
You can test listening to binaural beats on this page. Simply grab a pair of headphones and follow the instructions.
At Risk Groups
Despite there being no known side effects, there are groups that we advise not to listen to our binaural beats music.
- Pregnant women
- Those wearing a pacemaker
- Those prone to seizures
If you fall into one of the aforementioned categories, you should consult a physician before listening to binaural beats.
This is not because we consider the music dangerous, but because it is always best with such conditions to stay on the safe side and check first.
Those with epilepsy are generally sensitive to changes in sound and light, and therefore this group may react to a concentrated stream of sound frequencies.
Here's some quick listening tips for you. Remember, for more advice you can download our free guide, and check out our user FAQ.
You do need headphones for binaural beats to be effective. This is because you need the left and right signal close to your ears to stimulate brain and create the effect.
To get the most out of your listening experience, we recommend using closed-back headphones.
This type of headphone blocks out external distraction and gives you an “in-head” sound experience without the need to turn the volume up loudly.
Open-back headphones are fine, but if you want to feel more isolated then closed-back are the better choice. You don't need to spend a fortune, though. The majority of headphones will be just fine.
As noted previously, you don't need the volume to be loud. Your brain will respond to the vibrations of the frequencies at a low volume.
Set the volume to a comfortable level, whereby the sound feels soothing.
3. Create a Routine
Try starting out with three tracks a day.
Choose three tracks centered around goals you have for improvement, and listen to one session a day of each for a week.
For example: you might choose to listen to Deep Meditation in the morning, Zen Focus while at work (around 10-11am), and Deep Sleep in bed while reading a book.
Once you see positive change in a particular area, you can choose to move on and try a different recording for a different purpose.
4. Know Your Brainwaves
To generalize for ease of explanation: Delta and Theta are low frequency waves, Beta and Gamma are high frequency waves, and Alpha is somewhere in the middle.
Theta is great for meditation, Delta for sleep. Alpha for focus, and Beta and Gamma for stimulation of memory and energy.
We advise that you don't listen to high frequency wave tracks before bedtime, as this may cause wakefulness and affect your sleep.
5. Don't Listen While Driving or Operating Machinery
Some tracks will make you very relaxed, and we don't want any accidents to happen. When listening to music it is easy to drift off into a day-dream too, so listen in a relaxed, safe environment.
The frequencies used to create binaural beats are no different to the frequencies found in sound in general, be that in nature or manmade music.
We hear and are exposed to sound waves every day, wherever we are in the world.
Therefore, the only side effects that might potentially arise from using binaural beats are those similar to over-exposure to music.
For example: If a person listens to loud music in headphones for a few hours they might develop a headache.
And, over-exposure to heavy bass frequencies may cause a person to become a little nauseous.
This may occur when a person stands next to a large speaker at a festival/concert for a long period of time. Fortunately, our music is gentle to listen to and doesn't contain heavy bass sounds.
Binaural beats, however, are safe and sound, literally!
We hope this article helped put your mind at rest regarding the potential side effects of binaural beats.
In a nutshell it's just special music; music that helps your brain move into positive states of relaxation, learning, focus, creativity, healing and more.