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A 101 Guide to Binaural Beats

Binaural beats are a form of brainwave entrainment that have been shown to have positive effects on stress, anxiety (1,2), focus (3), motivation, confidence and meditation (4). Binaural beats work when two different frequencies are heard, one in each ear. This creates a third tone, the binaural beat, whose frequency is the difference between the two other tones, e.g. if the tone in one ear is 400Hz and the other is 410Hz, the binaural beat is 10Hz. This binaural beat is shown to have a positive impact on the user’s mindset. It is important to note that stereo headphones are required to achieve a binaural beat since when using a speaker or non-stereo headphones the frequencies are already mixed outside the brain and hence no binaural beat is created.

The various tones of binaural beats affect the user differently. The following tones are used in the Rewire Mindset Recovery System:

  • 0.5 – 3.5 Hz – Delta wave for deep sleep
    • In a 2018 study, participants who received this frequency during sleep entered deep sleep quicker and for longer (5). This allows participants to gain more of the benefits of deep sleep including physical recovery.
  • 4.0 – 6.5 Hz – Theta for meditation/sleep
    • A 2017 study showed that even listening to a 6Hz binaural beat for just 10 minutes induced the user’s brain into a state similar to that achieved during meditation (4).
  • 7.0 – 12.5 Hz – Alpha for relaxation/dreams
    • In a 1990 study, alpha wave binaural beats were shown to have a positive influence on the user’s relaxation (6).
  • 13.0 – 38.5 – Beta for Activity            
    • It has been shown that beta wave binaural beats can positively affect vigilance performance and mood (3), and a recent 2019 study showed that beta wave binaural beats have a positive impact on long term memory (7).

Binaural beats also have a positive effect in counteracting the negative effects of mental fatigue. A recent 2020 study by Walter Staiano, Rewire’s Scientific Advisor, showed that binaural beats reduce the negative effect of mental fatigue (8). This makes binaural beats an important part of mindset recovery and pre-competition preparation in sports to minimise the negative effects that mental fatigue is shown to have on endurance performance (9,10).

We have put together a demo of our mindset recovery system featuring theta wave binaural beats which you can watch and download below.

You can also hear what binaural beats sound like raw and play around with different tones here.

References

1.        Padmanabhan R, Hildreth AJ, Laws D. A prospective, randomised, controlled study examining binaural beat audio and pre-operative anxiety in patients undergoing general anaesthesia for day case surgery. Anaesthesia. 2005; 

2.        Garcia-Argibay M, Santed MA, Reales JM. Efficacy of binaural auditory beats in cognition, anxiety, and pain perception: a meta-analysis. Psychol Res. 2019; 

3.        Lane JD, Kasian SJ, Owens JE, Marsh GR. Binaural auditory beats affect vigilance performance and mood. Physiol Behav. 1998; 

4.        Jirakittayakorn N, Wongsawat Y. Brain responses to a 6-Hz binaural beat: Effects on general theta rhythm and frontal midline theta activity. Front Neurosci. 2017; 

5.        Jirakittayakorn N, Wongsawat Y. A Novel Insight of Effects of a 3-Hz Binaural Beat on Sleep Stages During Sleep. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018; 

6.        Foster DS. EEG and Subjective Correlates of Alpha-Frequency Binaural-Beat Stimulation Combined with Alpha Biofeedback. 1990; 

7.        Garcia-Argibay M, Santed MA, Reales JM. Binaural auditory beats affect long-term memory. Psychol Res. 2019; 

8.        Axelsen JL, Kirk U, Staiano W. On-the-Spot Binaural Beats and Mindfulness Reduces the Effect of Mental Fatigue. J Cogn Enhanc. 2020; 

9.        Marcora SM, Staiano W, Manning V. Mental fatigue impairs physical performance in humans. J Appl Physiol. 2009; 

10.      Lopes TR, Oliveira DM, Simurro PB, Akiba HT, Nakamura FY, Okano AH, et al. No Sex Difference in Mental Fatigue Effect on High-Level Runners’ Aerobic Performance. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2020;Volume Pub. 

The High-Pressure Lifestyle of an Elite Athlete and the Techniques used to Combat Stress

An athlete’s life is fairly unique when compared to the general population. Apart from the obvious exchange of a suit for a tracksuit, their objectives are different too. For many athletes, their efforts accumulate and build up to a major event at the end of a cycle. This could be the Olympics or World Cup every four years or a league final at the end of a year. In this crucial event, it is imperative that they perform to the best of their ability. Their performance on that day not only affects them but also all those that have helped them get to that point: coaches, sponsors, family, support staff and fans all rely on their success to varying degrees in addition to the athlete themselves.

An athlete needs to be at peak health at all times. This means complete focus on everything that they put into and do to their body. Training routines and nutrition plans are regimented and there are limited opportunities to relax this. Lots of sleep is needed to ensure recovery in order to perform and benefit from the next day of training. This regimented lifestyle as well as the reliance from others creates an inevitable sense of pressure. And from pressure comes stress. As they approach a big event an athlete needs focus, and stress does not always help the athlete achieve this.

Whilst sports psychologists might be in place, some things can simply impede performance. Be that impending parenthood, illness, or the death of a loved one. We’ve seen this before, in the 2016 Australian Open Final, Andy Murray looked visibly distracted and lost in straight sets. Why? His wife, Kim, was about to give birth to their first child, whilst he was on the other side of the world. These kinds of distractions can be almost impossible to resist, and whilst it is more than understandable to be distracted by the idea of imminently becoming a father, we can still look for ways of keeping focus even at the most challenging of times.

In his autoethnography, Bradford Cooper talks about the mental toughness needed to overcome setbacks and frustrations during the Race Across America in which he was part of a 2-man team. These setbacks included needing to cover his teammate’s night pull after just after coming off a 5-hour pull, as well as being given the wrong directions by his daughter and having to turn round to get back on track. These kinds of setbacks cause frustration, mental fatigue and stress but with the right training, the effects of it can be minimised.

To stay in control in times of pressure and stress, athletes spend time practising mindfulness. Mindfulness practices help an athlete stay in control at times when they need it most. It has been shown that by practising meditation, stress levels can be reduced allowing for increased focus and concentration. Those regularly using meditation have also been shown to have improved sleep including more time spent in deep sleep and increased hormone release allowing for better recovery. Athletes also benefit from spending time during mindfulness to visualise success and create goals, allowing in turn for increased motivation and work ethic to develop their athletic performance. A recent study also showed that the use of binaural beats helps to counteract the effects of mental fatigue. Their findings demonstrate that binaural beats are an effective technique alongside mindfulness at enhancing cognitive control.

Practising mindfulness can help an athlete get into the ‘flow’, which is poetically described by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a state of being ‘completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.’ This is a state we have likely all experienced at some point in our life, where we become incredibly productive. Whilst this state might come and go naturally with motivation, practising mindfulness allows us to maintain a state of ‘flow’ for longer. The benefits of being in this state to an athlete are evident, with the athlete being in an optimal state to train and reap the resulting benefits whilst total focus is devoted to improving performance.

Click here find out about the mindset recovery system that we have built into Rewire.

Further Reading:

‘Changing Existence into Flow’
Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi

‘On-the-Spot Binaural Beats and Mindfulness Reduces the Effect of Mental Fatigue
Johanne Lundager Axelsen, Ulrich Kirk & Walter Staiano 
Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, 2020

‘Meditation and its regulatory role on sleep’
Ravindra P. Nagendra, Nirmala Maruthai & Bindu M. Kutty
Frontiers in Neurology, 2012

‘The Rise of Superman’
Steven Kotler

‘A 3000-mile tour of mental toughness: An autoethnographic exploration of mental toughness intra-individual variability in endurance sport’
K. Bradford Cooper, Mark R. Wilson & Martin I. Jones
International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2018

‘Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density’
Hölzel et al.
Psychiatric Research: Neuroimaging, 2011

‘Self-reported mindfulness and cortisol during a Shamatha meditation retreat.’
Jacobs et al.
Health Psychology, 2013