Does brainwave entrainment really work?
This is a question I have noticed to concern many people, who are researching the issue. I have come across this question in forums, Yahoo Answers, in blogs, and all other sorts of places. I can definitely empathize with someone who is looking to find a solution to a problem like anxiety, migraine, pain, etc., and needs reassurance and scientific proof that brainwave entrainment actually works!
In fact, there is more to answering this question than meets the eye. As someone who’s also been skeptical enough to do the research, I am more than happy to explore the issue in great depth. The important thing to address here is what have you been told that Brainwave Entrainment would do? Depending on whose site you’ve landed on you may have been promised different things. The promised benefits of this type of product are a long list, and more things are still being added to it. You may have been told that brainwave entrainment would help you meditate deeper, and rocket launch your spiritual evolution from doing so. You may have been told that it would help your brain release positive neuro chemicals and anti-aging hormones that would improve your health and help you feel more positive emotions, overcoming anxiety, and you also may have been told that listening to brainwave entrainment on a regular basis would help your brain evolve, building a higher threshold to mental and emotional input, growing neural pathways, and synchronising the two hemispheres of the brain.
The Basics of Brainwave Entrainment
So let’s start with the basics, and we can move on from there. An easier way to understand brainwave entrainment would be to think about how your brain gets entrained in real life, without the use of any technology. Have you ever heard a song on the radio that stuck into your mind throughout the day and maybe even the next one? Now think about a repeating sound, like the ticking of a clock – simply listening to it your brain starts producing alpha waves that match that tick-tack sound. Or have you ever been at a meeting when you immediately felt sleepy? That is because the majority of people in the room were feeling that same way and your brain simply matched the brain wave patterns they have been emanating. We can go on exemplifying this phenomenon, but the main point is that our brain is altering and adapting in direct response to what we hear, think, and see.
Going back to the technology, the simple claim of brainwave entrainment is that, by listening to these audios, usually with stereo headphones and eyes closed, your brain will be naturally and effortlessly led into a specific brainwave state as designated by the maker of the audio (ie: it could be alpha, theta, delta, gamma, etc., depending on what the audio is designed to do.) The other most basic claim is that when listening to these audios, the right and left hemispheres of the brain synchronize and you experience whole-brain functioning.
These two claims about brainwave entrainment have been scientifically verified with the use of an encephelograph.
The feedback and images coming from this machine, while “plugged up” to the brain of a listener of brainwave entrainment has been able to verify that, yes, these audios actually can and do lead people’s brainwaves into these targeted states, based on the frequencies and specific beats of the audios.
The formal name for this process is called the “frequency following response”, where the human brain will literally “follow” a specific frequency/beat after being exposed to it for (usually) about 8 minutes. Technically the definitive term “entrainment” does not exactly match the actual process of what is happening to your brain when listening to these audios, but its close enough, and the name has stuck now with these products becoming more popular and widely known.
The ‘Frequency Following Response’ or The Brain Entrainment Process
There are primarily three ways to elicit the frequency following response through an audio: binaural beats, monaural beats, and isochronic tones. Binaural beats was the first method to be discovered, and has been used since the 80’s, after being first made known and popular by Robert Monroe of the Monroe Institute (the institute is still around today, though Mr. Monroe has passed away). Binaural beats basically work in this way: one specific frequency/beat is played in one ear, let’s say, 1115 hz., while one slightly different frequency is played in the other at the same time, let’s say, 1120 hz. What the brain will naturally do while exposed to these two frequencies in either ear is create its own “phantom” beat, that is the difference between the two frequencies. In this case, it would be 5 hz., which is the frequency of the theta brainwave state. Therefore, your brain would be led into the theta state. At the same time, your brain working to combine these frequencies also ends up synchronizing its two hemispheres, and functioning in a whole-brained fashion while the listener is using the audio.
The point with this example is just that yes, it has been scientifically and materialistically proven that brainwave entrainment does, in fact, lead one’s brain into specific states, and it also does lead the brain into whole-brain functioning.
Now next point to make here is that many of the other promised benefits of brainwave entrainment stem from this basic foundation. For example, it has been said that listening to brainwave entrainment resets the brain’s sodium/potassium ratio, greatly decreasing mental fatigue, and improving the transporting of positive neurochemicals between brain cells. This promise rests on the fact that it has been shown that this occurs while one is in the theta state. Therefore, the answer would be that yes, because these audios do lead one’s brain into the theta state, then it follows that they would promote the resetting of the brain’s sodium potassium ratio.
Along these lines, the same goes for the fact that the brain has been shown to release anti-aging hormones such as HGH (human growth hormone) as well as decrease cortisol (a well known contributor to the aging of the human body), while in the delta state.
The Subjective Nature of Brainwave Entrainment
There is a certain point where the promised benefits of brainwave entrainment become more esoteric, and based on internal, subjective experience of oneself. A few examples would be that listening to brainwave entrainment on a regular basis helps to increase one’s self-awareness, or that it increases mental “sharpness”, or helps to heal emotional trauma and increase your tolerance of stress and negative emotion.
There basically are a few things that you can use to deduce whether you think these claims are true, and will work for you. A few manufacturers of this type of product have taken the time to hook up experienced meditators (like zen monks) to encephelographs, then fashion their audios to mimic what is occurring in these deep meditators’ brains. It would make sense then, to a large degree, that you could experience similar benefits from your brain undergoing this process.
If you’re a skeptic like me, I would say that one of the only real ways for you to find out if these types of claims are true is to try it. Fortunately, many makers of brainwave entrainment audios offer free demo downloads, if not very cheap downloads that leave plenty of reason to at least see for yourself.
Brainwave Entrainment Scientific Research Vs. My Personal Experiences
But here is where I’d like to chime in my own two cents. As a user of brainwave entrainment products for over 8 years now, you would obviously have to guess that I think this technology is fabulous. Even my earlier experiences with brainwave entrainment technology using less refined binaural beats were nothing short of miraculous for me. It’s a very fascinating experience to go from not being able to meditate at all to being able to sit with your eyes closed and headphones on and effortlessly slip down into deep brainwave states that were previously only reserved for years-long experienced meditators.
I’ve experienced all sorts of internal effects, ranging from feeling “high” to losing all awareness of my body, to seriously feeling like my head was turned completely backwards, only to just have to open my eyes to find it facing straight forward where I left it, to drifting into transcendent states of mind that can hardly even be described with words.
One of the more fascinating aspects of what brainwave entrainment does, long-term, is the growing of your mental threshold, and your self-awareness. I have been a participant of the Holosync Solution for several years, and its maker, Bill Harris, has gone to great lengths to explain why this technology does this. Much of his research is based on the concept of Entropy and Open Systems, (an idea that nominated its discoverer for a nobel prize). The brain being an open system, and the technology being a specific type of entropy, this technology has been shown to help the brain reorganize itself at a “higher level” through the growth of new neural pathways. This basically means that
So now that we’ve gone further in depth with this question, my answer to “Does Brainwave Entrainment Work?” is Yes, absolutely! And quite well at that. In fact, I personally feel that this technology is one of the most useful, powerful, and universally applicable tools to our continued mental evolution as a human race.
But again, when it comes to subjective experience, and mental evolution, I would have to caution you to take what anyone says with a grain of salt. Obviously people want to sell these products. There are some good ones out there and there are some bad ones out there. There are differences in quality, as well as differences in intent with how the audios are to be used.