The way our brains interpret information impacts mood, sleep, focus, memory, and certainly pain. Research on the human brain tells us that certain areas are more active than others when we are exposed to something unpleasant (like pain) and that this can work in both directions. That is to say that pain can send a signal upward to the brain that something unpleasant is happening, but the brain can send the same signals downward. The saying “depression hurts” comes from this phenomenon. So, it stands to reason that if we can change the way our brain processes signals to and from the body we can impact the feeling of physical pain. Certain medications are designed to increase or decrease the chemicals in our brain to accomplish this very goal. Food, supplements, and exercise can have the same impact on chemical signaling in the brain. Interestingly, certain sounds may have a similar effect.
Signals (information) traveling from our bodies to our brains are dependent on neurons. Think of our brains like the internet and neurons like people on social media talking to each other over a network that sends signals instantaneously across the globe. When neurons talk they release small amounts of electricity that can be measured with an EEG (electroencephalogram). A neurologist may look at the pattern of electrical waves in your brain to see if there may be a problem with your nervous system.
Enter the science of “binaural beats” (binaural meaning both ears). In 1837, the physicist Heinrich Wilhelm Dove found that if he played sounds at two different frequencies in each ear, the brain would essentially make up the difference with an “imaginary” tone to achieve equality. By changing the difference in frequency from one ear to the other he found that he could affect brain wave activity and potentially alter a person’s state of mind. As stated above, if our state of mind can impact the feeling of pain, then altering our state of mind should be able to affect how much we hurt (in theory).
Let’s talk about the different brain waves and what each does (https://blog.mindvalley.com/what-are-binaural-beats/):
Beta - reaction and engagement. This is the reactive, short term problem-solving state of mind
Alpha - focused and present. This is the relaxed, focused and learning state of mind
Theta - light sleep and meditation. This is the state of mind described as being in between awake and asleep. We are conscious and aware, but no longer paying attention to what’s going on around us. We don’t spend much time here because we fall asleep quickly from this state
Delta - asleep. This is the state where we are asleep, but not dreaming. This is the rest and repair state of mind and is important for us to heal. This is where the conscious mind and self-awareness shut down so the body can work on fixing itself from the day’s damage
Gamma - spiritual. This state of mind isn’t well understood but essentially neurons are firing so harmoniously that people experience a peace of mind described as spiritual.
We’ve talked about science and history, and my readers know I won’t write about something that doesn’t have some research behind it. 36 adults with various chronic pain diagnoses listened to either theta wave binaural beats or a placebo sound 20 minutes daily for 14 days each (28 days total). Subjects’ pain scores were measured before starting and after each 14-day period. Both sounds reduced average pain scores, but the binaural beats reduced average pain scores 77% more than the placebo sound. So, if you’ve ever noticed that listening to music helps your pain, binaural beats may be worth trying.
The best part about binaural beats is that the treatment is 100% free. If you have headphones and access to YouTube, you can listen to binaural beats for pain, focus, mood, or sleep just by typing it into the search box. Here are some as examples:
Personally, I believe that this is an effective tool for anyone’s pain toolbox. I have been listening to binaural beats for sleep and have noticed that I fall asleep much faster. A 20 minute nap with binaural beats leaves me feeling completely rested. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the research and writing for this blog was done to binaural beats found on YouTube and a $30 pair of headphones. Try it and let us know what you think!
Yours in Good Health,