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Binaural music for ADHD and sleep problems

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Binaural music for ADHD and sleep problems

That different EEG frequencies of the brain correlate with different emotional states has long been scientifically recognized.
Neurofeedback as ADHD therapy

The fact that the EEG frequencies of the brain can also be influenced by binaural music was initially thought to be an esoteric gimmick. However, our first self-experiments with binaural music, obtained via headphones from YouTube, impressed us so much that we discussed the topic with occupational therapists, psychotherapists and doctors. Their reports of effects on their patients confirmed our experience.

Basically, binaural music uses the effect that the body tends to synchronize to predetermined rhythms and frequencies.

1. How binaural music works

1.1. Body synchronization to conventional music (rhythm)

The body adjusts its reactions to perceived rhythmic stimuli. It is well known that music with slower rhythms tends to calm and music with faster rhythms tends to stimulate. However, this concerns audible frequencies (20 Hz upwards; music usually has rhythms between 60 and 140 bpm) and affects heart rate and blood pressure, among other things.123

1.2. Wave interference synchronization with binaural music

In contrast, binaural music does not rely on synchronization to an audible or perceptible rhythm, but on an indirect synchronization of frequency interferences.

The slowest brain waves (theta) start at 4 Hz. 4 oscillations per second as a music rhythm would correspond to 240 bpm. Such a fast rhythm is hardly resolvable acoustically - and would in any case conflict with the function of slow theta waves (deep relaxation, meditation, sleep).
As sound vibrations themselves, rhythm signals below 30 Hz are hardly perceptible (and hardly transmittable with conventional loudspeakers or headphones).

Binaural music therefore does not work via direct acoustic perception, but indirectly. With binaural music, the frequency of the music is shifted between the left and right ear by the frequency that is to be addressed. To stimulate a frequency of 10 Hz, a tone of e.g. 440 Hz is decreased by 5 Hz for one ear and increased by 5 Hz for the other ear. This results in a perceived frequency of 10 Hz in the brain - the so-called binaural beat.

It has been scientifically proven that binaural music is able to specifically influence brain frequencies and thus emotional states.45 See our own measurements below under 3.
Frequencies in the higher alpha and low beta range can increase concentration and decrease the error rate in tasks.6

It is sometimes questioned whether the effect is really mediated by the binaurality. One randomized study (n = 141) showed significant anxiety reduction in anxiety patients equally for music and binaural music compared to nonmusic.7 In contrast, in another study, the analgesic effect of binaural theta music was evident compared to non-binaural music.8

If you search for Binaural Alpha on Youtube, you will find several offers of music whose frequencies between the left and right ear have been pulled apart by 8 to 12 Hz. This music is supposed to help with concentration and learning.

A Concerned Person:

As an esoteric allergy sufferer, I was totally skeptical because it sounds so exotic. But it costs nothing to try it out, so I listened to an hour of binaural theta music before going to bed. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t have my mind spinning, that my head was empty and calm when I went to bed. I could think, yes. If I wanted to and about whatever I wanted. But I controlled what I wanted to think about, not the thoughts overran and determined me. I had never known that before.
I then continued this in the following weeks (1 - 2 hours of binaural theta music before going to bed, while reading or surfing on the side), in a season with extremely busy work, in which I had suffered from massive stress in the years before. I was completely exhausted and flat from all the work - but my earlier stress-typical affect breakthroughs were absent.

A psychological psychotherapist reports:

I have recommended binaural music (in the theta range) to quite a few of my patients to help them switch off and relax, which is relevant for many problems. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive - except for one patient who reported nightmares and sleepwalking.

A Concerned Person:

I had listened to binaural alpha music via Youtube to work. That worked well for quite a while. Until I suddenly got pretty tired and couldn’t really concentrate anymore. That’s when I noticed that YouTube had switched to the next track - and it was no longer alpha, but binaural theta music.

A Concerned Person:

After weeks of very good experiences with theta music to come down in the evening, I once listened to alpha music for an hour one evening before sleeping. This night was a complete disaster: I was as awake as a bell. It wasn’t until the end of the night that I felt like I was asleep and dreamed again. Before that I had probably been asleep too, but it didn’t feel like that, it felt more like being on a bad sleeping pill, which brings a calm but no sleep or at best a cold dreamless sheep. The day after was cruel. I will never use binaural alpha music to get down again. Binaural theta music, on the other hand, works well for me.

2. “Binaural” visual stimulation

The mode of action of binaural music, that frequency differences between the music fed to the right and left ear cause a “beat”, i.e. a differential rhythm in the brain, leads to the question whether this beat can be caused only by acoustic perception or also by other perceptions that address the left and right brain hemispheres with different frequencies.

Studies indicate that an optical stimulus with corresponding frequency differentiation triggers the same effect as an acoustic stimulus.9

The mode of action of binaural stimuli reminds us of the mechanisms of action of EMDR therapy (Shapiro). There, too, it is ultimately irrelevant whether the body-side alternating stimuli are mediated by eye movements, alternating touches of the body halves, or acoustic stimuli. However, EMDR is arguably not dependent on the use of specific frequencies, nor are different frequencies used on the two body hemispheres.

3. Measurement of brain frequencies under binaural music

In a self-experiment, we investigated the changes in brain frequencies caused by binaural music. The measurement was made by means of a medical frequency meter, as it is also used for neurofeedback. The experiment included three modes: no music, binaural theta music, and binaural alpha music. The neurofeedback therapist who analyzed the results did not know when a change was made and which music was used.

The measurement results show:

  • The changes can be seen to the minute.
  • The frequency changes have an immediate and constant effect, i.e. even after 15 minutes there are no further changes
  • There are no changes in the ratio of the frequencies (e.g. theta-beta ratio or other ratio)
  • The change in EEG when switching between the 3 test modes (theta, alpha, no binaural music) was clearly visible.
  • The change between the two types of music (theta and alpha) was clearly noticeable
    • Theta music did not cause an increase in the level of theta frequencies.
      However, a reduction of the deflections in the theta band was noticeable. The frequency response became more uniform.
    • Alpha music caused an overall increase in the level of alpha frequencies.

ATTENTION: This study of a single person on a single day with binaural music from Youtube in no way meets any scientific requirements. This would require a measurement of a large number of test persons with music created by themselves according to specific standards. Unfortunately, we cannot do this due to our limited resources.


  1. Trappe, Voit: The cardiovascular effect of musical genres— a randomized controlled study on the effect of compositions by W. A. Mozart, J. Strauss, and ABBA. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2016; 113: 347–52. DOI: 10.3238/arztebl.2016.0347

  2. Trappe (2012): Einfluss unterschiedlicher Musikstile auf Verhalten und Herz-Kreislauf-System, eine tierexperimentelle Studie bei Schweinen; Dissertation

  3. Reinhardt (1999): Untersuchungen zur Synchronisation von Herzfrequenz und musikalischem Rhythmus im Rahmen einer Entspannungstherapie bei Patienten mit tumorbedingten Schmerzen; Forsch Komplementärmed 1999;6:135–141; DOI:10.1159/000021235

  4. Chaieb, Wilpert, Reber, Fell (2016): Auditory Beat Stimulation and its Effects on Cognition and Mood States; Front Psychiatry. 2015; 6: 70; doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2015.00070; PMCID: PMC4428073

  5. Jirakittayakorn, Wongsawat (2015): The brain responses to different frequencies of binaural beat sounds on QEEG at cortical level. Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2015;2015:4687-91. doi: 10.1109/EMBC.2015.7319440

  6. Beauchene, Abaid, Moran, Diana, Leonessa (2016): The Effect of Binaural Beats on Visuospatial Working Memory and Cortical Connectivity; PLoS One. 2016; 11(11): e0166630; 10.1371/journal.pone.0166630; PMCID: PMC5125618

  7. Wiwatwongwana, Vichitvejpaisal, Thaikruea, Klaphajone, Tantong, Wiwatwongwana (2016): Medscape; The effect of music with and without binaural beat audio on operative anxiety in patients undergoing cataract surgery: a randomized controlled trial.Eye (Lond). 2016 Nov;30(11):1407-1414. doi: 10.1038/eye.2016.160.

  8. Zampi (2016): Efficacy of Theta Binaural Beats for the Treatment of Chronic Pain; Altern Ther Health Med. 2016 Jan-Feb;22(1):32-8.

  9. Ecsy, Jones, Brown (2016): Alpha-range visual and auditory stimulation reduces the perception of pain; Eur J Pain. 2016 Nov 2. doi: 10.1002/ejp.960.

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