I first discovered brainwave entrainment several months ago while desperately searching for something (ANYTHING!) to help my ADHD brain focus and be more productive at home and at work. As anyone in the mental health field can attest to, seeing and trying to help clients is only half of what we do. The rest of our time generally gets dedicated to documentation, and no or little focus doesn’t create productive progress note writing. At all. If you ever wonder why we always seem to look so darn busy, it’s because we seriously are! And other fields are finding themselves in similar conundrums. Paperwork and documentation are a large part of most people’s jobs in this day and age (ask any educator or business owner, or pretty much anyone else out there doing their best to make a living). Whether one has ADHD or not, the struggle is real!

So as I spent my time procrastinating, I happened to come upon a Udemy course on sale that day that assured me that they could increase my focus and productivity. I was skeptical, but it was on sale, and I was procrastinating… So I signed up. That’s when I first learned about one of the most effective productivity boosters and anxiety relievers I’ve ever been so fortunate to find. No prescription needed. Brainwave entrainment.

Brainwave entrainment actually isn’t a new concept. It’s been learned about and heavily researched for quite some time actually. The basic premise of brainwave entrainment is that by using certain tools and technologies, like binaural beats, isochronic tones, alpha waves, beta waves, and lots of other types of waves, for example, we can literally alter our brainwaves for the primary purpose of changing the way we feel or our current mood or behavior state. Oh yeah, I was intrigued.

Let’s say you have a very stressful job. Brainwave entrainment would allow you to be able to slow your brain down and operate from a more chilled-out perspective – legally! No drugs required. Or let’s say you’ve been assigned to brainstorm some new innovative ideas for work. You can use brainwave entrainment tools to change your brainwaves to help improve your concentration and actually enhance your creative juices. Need to study for that big college final exam? Brainwave entrainment can enhance your focus and studying so that you’re actually retaining all that information you’re reviewing. Any insomniacs out there? Brainwave entrainment can adjust your brainwaves to the same level they normally operate from when you do sleep, resulting in putting you to sleep in much less time.

There’s actually a lot of things you can use brainwave entrainment for. The research says that using brainwave entrainment tools and technologies, a number of mental and physical benefits can be attained or enhanced. To list a few:

  • pre-exercise energy
  • headache relief
  • hangover relief
  • pain relief
  • lower levels of anxiety
  • stress reduction
  • anger relief
  • improvement of concentration and focus (even in those of us who have been diagnosed with ADHD)
  • increased attention
  • memory boost
  • help with learning and studying
  • assist with improved problem-solving and brainstorming
  • improved critical thinking
  • improved lateral thinking
  • improved mental clarity
  • boost motivation
  • power nap assistance
  • deep sleep
  • lucid dreaming
  • night meditation
  • general relaxation
  • mindful meditation
  • assistance in waking up
  • improved confidence and self-esteem
  • enhanced creativity
  • boost in positive mood
  • improved energy levels
  • increased inspiration
  • improved insight
  • improved intuition
  • progressive brain training

To say I was amazed would be an understatement, but I was still pretty skeptical at first. Then I downloaded a couple binaural beats apps on my phone…

Binaural Beats

A binaural beat is an auditory illusion perceived when two different pure-tone sine waves, both with frequencies lower than 1500 Hz, and with less than a 40 Hz difference between them, are presented to a listener dichotically (one through each ear). The results can be so powerful, transformative, and healing, as your attention shifts left and right over your body’s midline. For anyone who has ever had EMDR therapy, crossing the midline is a major contributing factor to why it can be so effective.

Research shows that listening to binaural beats is an emerging and effective method to even stop migraines and aide in chronic pain treatment. Additionally, the healing frequencies of binaural beats are shown to help with symptoms of several other mental health conditions, including ADHD, anxiety, insomnia, and stress!

How Do Binaural Beats Work?

Find your headphones or ear buds and find a quiet place. Make sure that you use both ear buds, one in each ear. As explained by Banzai Labs, “This beat is indirectly perceived as opposed to directly heard since it’s below the range of human hearing. For each brainwave sequence, the frequency of this perceived beat has been engineered to precisely match a target brainwave frequency. The effect on the brainwaves depends on the difference in frequencies of each tone.”

Within minutes, the listener’s own brainwaves begin to fall into step with, and synchronize with, this binaural beat, inducing states ranging from intense concentration and focus to deep sleep. This synchronization process is referred to as “brainwave entrainment.”

Binaural Beats Apps

The best binaural apps will allow you to listen to your favorite music while the binaural beat plays behind it (remember, you can’t hear the beat). Other apps play sounds like ambient music in them, and yet others play various types of white noises or nature sounds. Which app you choose, should you decide to try brainwave entrainment, should be based on the type of music and/or sounds you prefer to hear and find most comfortable.

Personally, I find the binaural beat apps that allow me to sync my music playlists to the binaural beats more preferable than listening to rain and thunderstorms, but that’s just me. I work better listening to music I already know I like, but this is obviously a personal choice for everyone.

To find binaural beat apps, go to your phone’s App Store and search for “binaural beats.” You’ll find a number of these apps. I recommend reading the reviews and checking their ratings, as some seem to work better and are found more preferable than others. Also, decide what purpose you would like to use binaural beats to help you with. For instance, I sought out apps that specifically noted being able to help concentration and focus, creativity, anxiety relief, and stress relief. But if you’re an insomniac desperately wanting sleep, look for the apps that specify that they are for improved relaxation, mindfulness, and sleep. See, each binaural beat affects a different brainwave or set of brainwaves in your brain. If I’m looking to improve my focus but download a binaural beats app that specifies that it helps with sleep, those binaural beats apps are not going to help me in my desperate search to improve my concentration and be more productive.

My personal favorite binaural beats app is called Brain Wave 35 Binaural Series, which is one of the few binaural beats apps that does come at a cost (this particular one cost either $1.99 or $2.99 and the buyer gains permanent access to the app). 35 Binaural Brainwave Entrainment Programs has binaural beats for things like focus, memory, relaxation, sleep, power naps, mediation, energy, positive mood, anxiety relief, stress relief, relaxation, meditation, and much more. With this particular app, I’m able to play my choice binaural beats with ambience, nature sounds, or sync to my iTunes playlists. It can be used on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, so I also liked that I could use it on many devices. I also understand that one could use this app with Spotify or even with an Audio Book Reader; instructions are provided in the app description. (Please note, I am not affiliated in any way with the company that created this app, nor am I receiving any payment for endorsing its product; I just really like this app!)

Are There Any Potential Negative Side Effects to Listening to Binaural Beats?

Based on the current scientific research available, there are no serious risks or side effects of listening to binaural beats that have been reported. Obviously, you don’t want to listen at a very high volume, as high volumes can damage your ear drums. It is recommended that you use over-the-ear headphones if you have them to minimize any potential damage, the best being noise-cancelling headphones, but I personally just use the earbuds that my phone came with.

Realize, however, that people are very seldom deficient in a certain brainwave type in all areas of their brain. We’re all different when it comes to the distribution of our brainwaves. Boosting a certain brainwave state may be beneficial for one person, but emotionally uncomfortable for another. So, it can be rather “hit and miss.”

If brainwave entrainment leaves you with any rare, but unwanted side effects or discomfort, you’re probably encouraging a range of brainwaves that are already excessive in some area of your brain. If you’re concerned about this and would prefer, a way to get around this is to attain a brain map to see what your brain’s strengths and weaknesses are, and see what, if any, brainwaves could use some binaural beat encouragement.

BrainWorks Neurotherapy offers a few general guidelines to follow if you decide to use brainwave entrainment tools and technologies; following these are said to “greatly limit your risk of any discomfort:”

  • Don’t overdo it; most cases of any side effects come after overuse. A fifteen minute session is sufficient to begin (or 3-5 minutes if using audio/visual entrainment). Everyone reacts differently, and this will help you determine your sensitivity before jumping in.
  • If you experience increased anxiety, overwhelming subconscious images, convulsions, nausea, headaches, dizziness, or increased heartbeat, discontinue use immediately and permanently. Note that these types of rare reactions are more associated with using audio/visual entrainment tools, not the app types I’ve discussed in this article.
  • Do not use brainwave entrainment if you have any brainwave hyper-arousal or instability symptoms.

BrainWorks Neurotherapy does note that “the vast majority of people have no ill-effects from brainwave entrainment.” The most common side effect is simply feeling a little unusual for a while. If you do happen to experience any unwanted effects, stop using it, give it a few days, and you will return to normal.