I’ve recently begun experimenting with using binaural beats to help me focus while reading and writing. I came across them while looking for ways to block out distracting sounds in my household. Listening to music wasn’t an option, as I find music to be incredibly distracting, especially when I am trying to read. I stumbled onto binaural beats and its promise to improve focus. I decided to give it a try. Before I get into my experience, I’ll give a brief explanation of what binaural beats are and what they claim to do.
What are binaural beats?
If you’re not familiar with binaural beats, The Monroe Institute has a great explanation of how it works. In short, tones of similar frequency are played into each ear through a headset and the brain merges these frequencies, creating a beat with a frequency equal to difference between the two tones. For example, if a tone of 450 Hz is played in the left ear and a tone of 455 Hz is played into the right ear, the result is a beat of 5 Hz produced by the brain. The claim is that this process causes the brainwaves to sync up with the beat, which can have an impact on moods and emotions.
Is there science behind binaural beats?
The amount of research on binaural beats is a bit thin and often comes from dubious sources. One study conducted at the National College of Natural Medicine and published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that the beats had a positive effect in reducing anxiety. Another study that appears to be a class project was conducted at the University of Amsterdam (pdf). This study focused on whether or not binaural beats actually change brain activity. While this study did indeed show a change in brain activity when exposed to the beats, it is important to note that it only included four participants.
My own experience with binaural beats
I don’t think there is enough evidence either way to say definitively that they do or do not work. What I do know is that I am absolutely more alert and focused when I am using them. I’ve always had a tendency to slip into reverie when I am reading. I’ve also been know to get completely distracted by almost anything when I am writing: the internet, my own thoughts, a bug, etc. When using binaural beats, however, I’ve been a lot more focused, and, interestingly enough, a lot less TIRED.
Listening to binaural beats alone is not very helpful, in my opinion. The tones get annoying and also don’t have the sound blocking effect I was looking for. They work best when combined with other sounds. For some people, music is a great option, but not for me. What I have found works best is water sounds. I’ll either listen to a track of ocean waves or a gentle thunderstorm.
For the beats, I’m fond of the “Boost Creativity and Focus” track from free-binaural-beats.com. The track is free to download, though they do ask for donations if you like it. If you want to download it, be sure to right click on the link and select “Save As.” If you left click a pop-up comes up asking for donations.
I listen to the above track in combination with either Ocean Wave Sounds or Rain and Thunderstorm Sounds from Sound Dreamer. Both are two-hour long tracks available from Amazon as DRM-free MP3 downloads for 89 cents each, which I think is a real bargain. Sometimes I even play them both at the same time.
My experience may be the result of a placebo effect, but I’m fine with that. The fact is that I feel better, more alert, more focused, and less tired. That’s good enough for me.
On a side note, the combination of binaural beats and ocean waves also does a great job of masking my tinnitus.