Brainwave entrainment (BWE) is one of the most powerful, mind-enhancing tools available today. Countless studies have verified its benefits – from cognitive performance to alleviating stress, to even countering physical pain.
As incredible as this technology is, the internet is filled with misinformation, aggressive marketing, and a host of other deceptions around BWE that could lead users down the wrong path. We created this comprehensive guide to clear the fog, and give clear-cut advice to make the most out of this exciting tool.
If you want to see the following benefits in your life, then this guide is for you:
- Less stress
- Increased creativity
- Greater focus
- Removal of bad habits
- Deeper meditations
- Better mood
- Increased memory & mental performance
Don’t feel the need to read this guide from front to back. Treat this as a buffet, and take the bits and pieces that make the most sense to you. Down below you’ll see a download link to save this guide as an offline eBook to read at your own leisure.
- 1 Chapter 1: Brainwaves 101
- 2 Chapter 2: What is Brainwave Entrainment?
- 3 Chapter 3: The History of Brainwave Entrainment
- 4 Chapter 4: The Science Behind Brainwave Entrainment
- 5 Chapter 5: Audio Entrainment: Binaural Beats, Monaural Beats, Isochronic Tones
- 6 Chapter 6: Visual Entrainment: Photic Stimulation
- 7 Chapter 7: Other Forms of Entrainment
- 8 Chapter 8: Putting Brainwave Entrainment Into Action
- 9 Chapter 9: Additional Resources
Chapter 1: Brainwaves 101
To understand how brainwave entrainment works, you first need to know the basics behind brain waves. In this section, you’ll learn what brain waves are and how they’re linked to various mental, emotional, and physical states. You’ll also learn how neurotechnology allows you to modify brainwaves, giving you greater control over your mind.
What are brain waves?
The brain is made up of approximately 100 billion neurons, and trillions of connections between them. There are more neural connections in a single cubic centimeter of brain tissue than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy!
This immense neural network is responsible for anything and everything related to your reality. From your sense perceptions to your thoughts, to all functions of your body – it’s all driven by data flowing through your brain’s neural web.
This data is passed from one neuron to the next through electricity (which can be clocked in at speeds upwards of 250 miles per hour – faster than a Formula One racing car)!
By placing electrodes on the scalp with a device called an electroencephalograph (EEG), scientists have discovered that electricity travels through the brain in rhythms. These electrical rhythms are called brainwaves.
What type of brain waves are there?
Brainwaves are measured in Hertz (Hz), which are the frequency of electrical cycles per second. Brainwave frequencies can be grouped into categories. These categories are linked to various mental, emotional, and even physical states.
For example, slow brainwaves are associated with things like relaxation and sleep, while faster brainwaves are associated with things like alertness and heightened energy. By looking at one’s brainwaves, you can understand the state of one’s consciousness.
Down below, we give a description of each brainwave category, their frequency range, and the mental state associated with it.
Beta (38hz – 12hz) – Normal waking consciousness occurs in the beta range. This category is associated with cognitive tasks such as problem solving, decision making, verbal communication, and general mind wandering. Higher levels of beta brainwaves can be linked to stress, anxiety, and panic.
Alpha (12hz – 8hz) – Awake, but deeply relaxed. Simply closing your eyes will produce alpha brainwaves. This category is associated with daydreaming, visualization, imagination, light meditation. Brainwave expert Anna Wise called the alpha range the bridge between beta and theta. (More information can be found in Wise’ book The High-Performance Mind)
Theta (8hz – 3hz) – Light sleep, dreaming, REM sleep, creativity, access to unconscious material, access to long-term memory, emotional healing, intuition, deep reverie, and spiritual wisdom. Hypnotists have found theta to be the range of hyper-suggestibility, where one can program or reprogram beliefs.
We created an in-depth guide on theta brain waves if you want to learn more.
Delta (3hz – 0.2hz) – Deep, dreamless sleep. Intuition. Empathy. Brainwave expert Judith Pennington calls it the doorway to Universal Consciousness and “A radar that scans the environment and psychically picks up information and energy.” According to British physicist C. Maxwell Cade “There have been reports that delta waves appear at the onset of paranormal phenomena.” (More information can be found in Cade’s book The Awakened Mind)
How to modify brain waves to control your mind
The brain is a complex system, and every area of its network fires off various types of brainwaves at once. It is the combination of these brainwaves which can give a deeper insight into a person’s state.
For example, someone who has low levels of beta waves and elevated levels of alpha / theta waves, tend to suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD). Those that have elevated levels of beta waves, and low levels of alpha waves tend to suffer from anxiety.
Brainwave entrainment is a powerful technology that allows us to have greater control over our brain waves, and in turn greater control over our mental states.
For example, ADD sufferers can use BWE technology to decrease theta brain waves, increase beta brain waves, resulting in a more focused mind. Those suffering from anxiety can turn down their beta brain wave production, which can result in feelings of relaxation and well-being.
Utilizing BWE technology gives you the closest thing to a dial control over your brain. Many long term entrainment practitioners have said BWE allows them to enter any desired state at will – from deep tranquility, to creative insight, to focused attention.
If this is something you want to have in your own life, then move onto Chapter 2 where you’ll learn more about the science behind brainwave entrainment.
Chapter 2: What is Brainwave Entrainment?
Think of a tuning fork. A tuning fork can be used to tune a guitar string to the right pitch. In the same way, brainwave entrainment uses specialized sound and light technology to tune your brainwaves to specific frequencies, and in turn, give you greater control over your mind. In this section, we dive into the science behind this principle.
What is entrainment?
Entrainment is a physics principle in which one rhythmic system falls in synchrony with another rhythmic system. If you’ve ever found yourself moving your body to the beat of your favorite song, then you’ve experienced entrainment in its most basic form. Besides music, this principle can be found all around you, probably more than you realize. Here are a few examples:
- Fish in the ocean coming together to swim in synchrony
- Your circadian rhythm synchronizing to the rise and fall of the sun
- Women working closely at the workplace naturally matching their menstrual cycles
- Breathing patterns and heart rates of couples matching when sitting close together
- The human heart beating at the same beat of a pacemaker
One of the most famous observations of entrainment was made by Dutch Scientist Christiaan Huygens in 1665. He observed identical swinging movements of two pendulums clocks on his wall. Even when he brought one clock off sync, the two always found themselves back in step.
When he moved one clock to the other end of the room, the two fell out of sync. But when brought back together, the pendulums would again synchronize. Here’s a fascinating video showing this very phenomenon in action with metronomes.
Why does entrainment occur? From a physics standpoint, less energy is required when one system falls in sync with a more powerful rhythmic system.
Picture yourself swimming in a flowing river. How much more difficult is it to swim against the current versus swimming alongside it? It takes far less energy when you swing with the flow of the water.
From the stars in the sky to the fish in the ocean, endless systems falls under this same principle – including the human brain.
What is brainwave entrainment (BWE)?
As we explained in the previous chapter, billions of neurons throughout your brain communicate with one another through electricity. These electrical pulses are rhythmic in nature. Just like any other rhythmic system, it can be subject to entrainment.
Remember how we talked about pendulum clocks synchronizing when placed near each other? Your brainwaves behave in the same way when presented with certain rhythmic stimuli.
For example, if you stare at a strobe light flashing at a consistent and slow enough rate, your brainwaves will eventually begin to fall into that same rate.
This process is called brainwave entrainment (BWE), which occurs when the electric rhythms of your brain begin to synchronize with the same rhythms of an external source. This source could come in the form of pulsing light, sound, touch, or even electrical signals.
Here’s why brainwave entrainment matters: By presenting ourselves with light or sound pulsating at specific frequencies, we can modify our brainwaves to the same rhythm and in effect, control our mental, emotional, and physical states at will.
What are the benefits of brainwave entrainment?
Down below, we’ve included some of the areas where BWE has been shown to be most effective. We’ve also included peer-reviewed studies done in each of these areas.
Treating Attention Deficit Disorder / Improving Focus
- Joyce, Michael, and Dave Siever. “Audio-visual entrainment program as a treatment for behavior disorders in a school setting.” Journal of Neurotherapy 4.2 (2000): 9-25.
- Siever, Dave. “Applying audio-visual entrainment technology for attention and learning.” Biofeedback Mag. 31 (2008): 1-15.
- Patrick, Graham J. “Improved neuronal regulation in ADHD: An application of 15 sessions of photic-driven EEG neurotherapy.” Journal of Neurotherapy 1.4 (1996): 27-36.
- Olmstead, Ruth. “Use of auditory and visual stimulation to improve cognitive abilities in learning-disabled children.” Journal of Neurotherapy 9.2 (2005): 49-61.
Improving Academic Performance
- Budzynski, T., Jordy, J., Budzynski, H., Tang, H. and Claypoole, K., 1999. “Academic Performance Enhancement with Photic Stimulation and EDR Feedback. Journal of Neurotherapy.” 3, 11-21.
- Budzynski, Thomas, et al. “Academic performance enhancement with photic stimulation and EDR feedback.” Journal of Neurotherapy 3.3-4 (1999): 11-21.
- Patrick, Graham J. “Improved neuronal regulation in ADHD: An application of 15 sessions of photic-driven EEG neurotherapy.” Journal of Neurotherapy 1.4 (1996): 27-36.
Inducing Dissociation / Meditation Enhancement
- Leonard, K. N., Telch, M. J. and Harrington, P. J., 1999. “Dissociation in the laboratory: a comparison of strategies.” Behav Res Ther. 37, 49-61.
- Williams, Paul, and Michael West. “EEG responses to photic stimulation in persons experienced at meditation.” Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology 39.5 (1975): 519-522.
- Williams, Jonathan, Deepa Ramaswamy, and Abderrahim Oulhaj. “10 Hz flicker improves recognition memory in older people.” BMC neuroscience 7.1 (2006): 21.
- Williams, J. H. “Frequency-specific effects of flicker on recognition memory.” Neuroscience 104.2 (2001): 283-286.
Alleviating Short-Term Stress
- Ossebaard, Hans C. “Stress reduction by technology? An experimental study into the effects of brainmachines on burnout and state anxiety.” Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback 25.2 (2000): 93-101.
- Le Scouranec, Rene-Pierre, et al. “Use of binaural beat tapes for treatment of anxiety: a pilot study of tape preference and outcomes.” Alternative therapies in health and medicine 7.1 (2001): 58.
- Padmanabhan, R., A. J. Hildreth, and D. Laws. “A prospective, randomised, controlled study examining binaural beat audio and pre‐operative anxiety in patients undergoing general anaesthesia for day case surgery.” Anaesthesia 60.9 (2005): 874-877.
Alleviating Long Term Stress
- Ossebaard, Hans C. “Stress reduction by technology? An experimental study into the effects of brainmachines on burnout and state anxiety.” Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback 25.2 (2000): 93-101.
- Howard, Cary E. “A comparison of methods for reducing stress among dental students.” Journal of dental education 50.9 (1986): 542-44.
- Wahbeh, Helane, Carlo Calabrese, and Heather Zwickey. “Binaural beat technology in humans: a pilot study to assess psychologic and physiologic effects.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 13.1 (2007): 25-32
- Morse, D. R., and E. Chow. “The effect of the Relaxodont brain wave synchronizer on endodontic anxiety: evaluation by galvanic skin resistance, pulse rate, physical reactions, and questionnaire responses.” International journal of psychosomatics: official publication of the International Psychosomatics Institute 40.1-4 (1992): 68-76.
- Berg, Kathy, and Dave Siever. “A controlled comparison of audio-visual entrainment for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder.” Journal of Neurotherapy 13.3 (2009): 166-175.
- Lane, James D., et al. “Binaural auditory beats affect vigilance performance and mood.” Physiology & behavior 63.2 (1998): 249-252.
- NOMURA, TSUTOMU, et al. “Slow‐wave photic stimulation relieves patient discomfort during esophagogastroduodenoscopy.” Journal of gastroenterology and hepatology 21.1 (2006): 54-58.
- Manns, Arturo, Rodolfo Miralles, and Hugo Adrián. “The application of audiostimulation and electromyographic biofeedback to bruxism and myofascial pain-dysfunction syndrome.” Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology 52.3 (1981): 247-252.
- Boersma, F., Gagnon, C. (1992). “The Use of Repetitive Audiovisual Entrainment in the Management of Chronic Pain.” Medical Hypnosis Journal, Vol 7, No3: 80-97.
- Thomas, N., and D. Siever. “The effect of repetitive audio/visual stimulation on skeletomotor and vasomotor activity.” Hypnosis: 4th European congress at Oxford. London: Whurr Publishers, 1989.
- Solomon, Glen D. “Slow Wave Photic Stimulation in the Treatment of Headache‐a Preliminary Report.” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 25.8 (1985): 444-446.
- Noton, David. “Migraine and photic stimulation: report on a survey of migraineurs using flickering light therapy.” Complementary Therapies in Nursing and Midwifery 6.3 (2000): 138-142.
- Anderson, D. J. “The Treatment of Migraine with Variable Frequency Photo‐Stimulation.” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 29.3 (1989): 154-155.
Chapter 3: The History of Brainwave Entrainment
In this section, we’ll take you on a journey recounting brainwave entrainment’s rich history – from its earliest discoveries in ancient Greece over 2,000 years ago, to the discovery of brainwaves in the 1920’s, to the explosion of consumer brainwave entrainment devices throughout the 1980’s and beyond.
Around 200 AD, the famous Greek writer, mathematician, and astronomer Ptolemy noticed that when he spun a spoked wheel between him and the sun, the flashes of sunlight caused him to see unique patterns of color and light, and have feelings of euphoria.
In the 19th century, the famous psychologist Pierre Janet noticed that when his patients were presented with flickering lights, they had significant reduction in hysteria, depression, and anxiety.
As technology advanced in the 20th century, neuroscientists began using tools such as the Electroencephalograph (EEG). In 1924 German physiologist and psychiatrist Hans Berger recorded the first human EEG, and by 1929 discovered the alpha brainwave (8 – 12 Hz).
In 1934 researchers Adrian & Mathews worked off of Berger’s research, and found that pulsating light (which would later be known as photic stimulation) could produce alpha brainwave activity.
During World War II, technician Sidney Schneider noticed operators who frequently stared at radar screens emitting rhythmic light flashes, entered altered states of consciousness. Schneider later developed one of the first sound and light machines called the Brainwaves Synchronizer.
In 1956, the famous neuroscientist W. Gray Walter published the results of studying thousands of test subjects using photic stimulation, showing their change in mental and emotional states. He also learned that photic stimulation not only altered brainwaves, but that these changes were occurring in areas of the brain outside of vision. In Walter’s words:
“The rhythmic series of flashes appear to be breaking down some of the physiologic barriers between different regions of the brain. This means the stimulus of flicker received by the visual projection area of the cortex was breaking bounds— its ripples were overflowing into other areas.”
In the 1960’s famous writer and Beat Generation figurehead, William S Burroughs and British artists put together a simple visual device called the Dreammachine, in which a pierced cylinder rotated around a light source to produce flickering effects. One of the first consumer-grade photic stimulation devices was born.
William Burough’s Dream Machine – source
Also in the 1960’s, medical applications of brainwave entrainment started to be employed by physicians. The Anesthesiologist M.S. Sadove began using photic stimulation to reduce the amount of anesthesia required during surgery.
Business executive and radio producer Robert Monroe started experimenting with brainwave entrainment and has a series of powerful out of body experiences using it. In 1971 he published his cult classic “Journeys Out of the Body” sharing his experiences. He later created one of the first audio entrainment companies called Hemi Sync, alongside the Monroe Institute of Applied Sciences.
In 1973, biophysicist Dr. Gerald Oster published a famous article in Scientific American titled “Auditory Beats in the Brain”, which found that when two pure tones of varying frequencies were combined, a third rhythmic beat was created which he called binaural or monaural beats. According to Oster, monaural beats occur when two tones are combined and sent through a loudspeaker, while binaural beats occur when stereo headphones are used to deliver each tone separately to each ear. Oster concluded that monaural beats were a more effective form of brainwave entrainment.
In 1980 Japenese researcher Tsuyoshi Inouye of Osaka University Medical School discovered that photic stimulation causes brain synchronization, which is the phenomena of both left and right hemispheres of the brain operating in unison.
In 1981 Michael Hutchison published his cult classic Mega Brain, which helped popularize many brain enhancing tools such as brainwave entrainment to a mainstream audience.
Later that year, Arturo Manns published a breakthrough study showing the effectiveness of isochronic tones, which are pulsating sounds. Researchers such as Dave Siever later discovered that isochronic tones are far more effective in entraining the brain than binaural beats.
In 1984 medical researcher Dr. Gene W. Brockopp published a paper making several conclusions of audio and visual entrainment (AVE). Such conclusions were that hemispheric synchronization caused by AVE is related to increased intellectual functioning, practiced use of AVE overtime leads to a cumulative effect, and AVE may result in the recovery of early childhood experiences.
Throughout the eighties, advancements in microelectronics made it possible for engineers to bring audio and visual entrainment machines to the consumer market. Thousands of machines started to be used by laymen, outside the medical and research field.
Brainwave entrainment device ads from the 1990’s
Throughout the nineties and 2000’s, several research studies found brainwave entrainment to be effective in treating attention deficit disorder (ADD), improving memory, improving academic performance, inducing dissociation, alleviating short and long term stress, improving mood, alleviating physical pain, and alleviating headaches.
With almost 100 years of research validating the effectiveness of brainwave entrainment, it’s no wonder why it’s used by thousands of people all over the world. What does the future entail in this exciting field? With the adoption of smartphones, virtual and augmented reality, and advancements in technology reducing the cost of EEG and other forms of biofeedback devices, the entrainment possibilities are endless.
Chapter 4: The Science Behind Brainwave Entrainment
Now that you know the basics behind brainwave entrainment, we dive even deeper into its science. You’ll learn how BWE leads to the synchronization of both hemispheres of the brain, resulting in benefits such as creative insight, greater emotional stability, and enhanced mental performance.
As we mentioned earlier, brainwave entrainment occurs when the electrical rhythms of your brain synchronize to the same rhythms of an external source. This source typically comes in the form of pulsing light and/or sound. Here’s a recent video of me trying out a visual brainwave entrainment device delivering pulsing light:
When you are presented with flashes of light, neurons in your eyes become excited and send electrical signals to the thalamus. The thalamus is an area of the brain that takes in sensory input from your environment and sends that data to different areas of the brain.
When electrical signals from your eyes hit the thalamus, it then sends the signal to your visual and cerebral cortex. As the visual cortex receives constant and repetitive signals from the pulsing light, it’s neural activity starts to synchronize to that same frequency.
Brainwave entrainment has begun. As BWE becomes stronger in the visual cortex, other areas of the brain follow suit and synchronize to the same source frequency.
In his book Mega Brain, Michael Hutchinson cites neurologist W. Gray Walter on this process:
“The great neuroscientist W. Gray Walter carried out a series of experiments in the late forties and fifties in which he used an electronic stroboscopic device in combination with EEG equipment to send rhythmic light flashes into the eyes of the subjects at frequencies ranging from ten to twenty five flashes per second. He was startled to find that the flickering seemed to alter the brain-wave activity of the whole cortex instead of just the areas associated with vision. Wrote Walter, “The rhythmic series of flashes appear to be breaking down some of the physiologic barriers between different regions of the brain. This means the stimulus of flicker received by the visual projection area of the cortex was breaking bounds— its ripples were overflowing into other areas.”
The brain consists of two hemispheres, connected with a structure called the corpus callosum. The left hemisphere is associated with things such as analytical thought, logic, reasoning, and language. The right hemisphere is associated with things like creativity, imagination, intuition, insight, and emotions.
Most people have unbalanced brains, where one hemisphere shows greater activity than the other. This condition is called brain lateralization.
Soviet neuropsychologist Alexander Romanovich Luria wrote in his book The Working Brain, that humans are approximately one-third left dominant, one-third right dominant, and the rest minor left dominant.
In his book Thresholds of The Mind, binaural beat expert Bill Harris writes about the problems associated with brain lateralization:
Because the brain filters and interprets reality in a split-brained way, we tend to see things as separate and opposed, rather than as connected and part of the oneness spoken of by the great spiritual teachers (and, in the last few decades, by quantum mechanical physicists). Thus, at a deep level, the dual structure of our brain, in conjunction with brain lateralization, predisposes us to see and experience ourselves as separate from, and often in opposition to, the rest of the world—instead of experiencing the elegant interconnectedness between us and everything else. Our childhood associations and programming build on this inborn tendency by training us to seek this and avoid that, to move toward pleasure and away from pain, to do good and not bad, and so on. The greater the lateralization in the brain, the greater the feelings of separation—and the greater the feelings of separation, the greater the fear, stress, anxiety, and isolation.
Hemispheric Synchronization and Brainwave Entrainment
In the 1970s, neuroscience researchers found that when experienced meditators were deep in practice, harmonious activity between both hemispheres of the brain started to occur. This phenomenon is known as hemispheric synchronization.
When both hemispheres of the brain work in unison, this results in benefits such as creative insight, greater emotional stability, enhanced mental performance, better learning capabilities, deeper focus, increased connection with one’s environment, and feelings of deep tranquility.
Traditional religious practices such as meditation, mantra, breathing exercises, and certain body movements were aimed to essentially counter the effects of brain lateralization, and move the mind towards a unified, synchronized system. However, only a percentage of practitioners are able to achieve these states consistently.
Brainwave entrainment is a reliable solution that can counter this problem. In 1980 Japanese researcher Tsuyoshi Inouye of Osaka University Medical School discovered that photic stimulation causes brain synchronization. Dr. Normal Shealy later tested over 5,000 of his patients with photic stimulation and came to the same conclusion.
Unlike traditional forms of meditation, brainwave entrainment is a reliable, predictable, and consistent tool that allows you to harmonize various areas of your brain at will. With regular practice, new neural connections begin to be made between the two hemispheres and cumulative, long-term benefits start to take place.
Chapter 5: Audio Entrainment: Binaural Beats, Monaural Beats, Isochronic Tones
The deliberate use of sound to modify the mind has been long chronicled throughout history. Various indigenous cultures have used rhythmic patterns of clapping, chanting, and singing in ceremony to enter higher states of consciousness, attain wisdom, and heal the mind/body.
For thousands of years, instruments such as the aboriginal didgeridoo, Tibetan singing bowl, native American flute, and the tribal drum have been revered as powerful tools of transformation.
In modern times, neuroscientists have found audio entrainment to bring about these same benefits. Binaural beats and isochronic tones have been shown to induce super learning, memory improvement, creativity enhancement, and even out of body experiences.
In this section, we outline what these forms of audio entrainment are, and how you can use them to see these very benefits.
One of the most basic forms of audio entrainment is auditory beats, which form when two pure tones of a slightly different pitch are played together.
For example, if two tuning forks at slightly different pitches are struck simultaneously, the pulsing wah-wah-wah sound that you hear is the resulting beat. Here’s a great video demonstrating this phenomenon.
Auditory beats typically come in the form of binaural or monaural beats.
Discovered in 1839 by the German physicist Heinrich Wilhelm Dove, he found auditory beats form inside the brain when each ear is presented with its own tone of a slightly different pitch.
For example, when stereo headphones deliver binaural beats, the left ear would receive a pitch of 200 Hz, and the right ear 207 Hz, a beat 7 Hz would be created inside the brain (207 Hz – 200 Hz = 7 Hz).
Grab a pair of headphones and listen to this clip of a binaural beat:
This effect is generated within the olivary body of the brain, as it attempts to spatially locate the direction of the third tone.
In 1973, Gerald Oster published a famous article in Scientific American titled “Auditory Beats In The Brain”, which first brought this phenomenon to the public. He writes:
“A quite different phenomenon results when stereophonic earphones are used and the signals are applied separately to each ear. Under the right circumstances beats can be perceived, but they are of an entirely different character. They are called binaural beats. . . . Binaural beats require the combined action of both ears. They exist as a consequence of the interaction of perceptions within the brain.”
There are many advantages and disadvantages with binaural beats. One of the major advantages is hemispheric synchronization. Since both hemispheres are required to create the beat within the brain, this method is an excellent way to create greater harmony between areas of the mind typically functioning independently. Binaural beats are also known to have effective hypnotic and relaxing effects.
As far as the disadvantages, binaural beats don’t actually create a strong entraining effect in the brain. This is contrary to much of the material you’ll read online about this form of entrainment.
Over the last few years, there has been a considerable amount of marketing hype build around this method. Outrageous claims have been made about binaural beats – from balancing your chakras to helping you to quit smoking, or even to help lose weight. Some these companies have even released fake studies supporting their claims.
In reality, binaural beats are actually one of the weakest forms of brainwave entrainment. Since the beat is created within the brain itself, its volume depth is barely audible – roughly 3 decibels. As is the case, this doesn’t produce a strong neural effect.
In his paper “Entraining Tones and Binaural Beats”, brainwave entrainment expert Dave Siever includes several studies which disprove the effectiveness of binaural beats to create brainwave entrainment. He writes:
“Binaural beats are not very noticeable because the modulation depth (the difference between loud and quiet) is 3 db, a two-to-one ratio. (Isochronic tones and mono beats easily have 50 db difference between loud and quiet, which is a 100,00-to-1 ratio). This means that binaural beats are unlikely to produce an significant entrainment because they don’t activate the thalamus.”
Binaural beats can only be used for beat rates below 25 Hz, anything higher will not mix and produce the desired beat.
For example, if 440 Hz is played in the left ear, and 470 Hz is played in the right ear, a beat will not form since the difference of the two is above 25 Hz.
Auditory beats will also not form in the brain when the two tones used have a pitch higher than 900 Hz. Binaural beats are best heard at lower pitches below 440 Hz.
One of the most common complaints with binaural beats is the requirement of stereo headphones. Many people prefer to listen to audio entrainment tracks while laying in bed, and it can be particularly uncomfortable to relax while headphones are jammed in your ears
Monaural beats are the result of two tones combined before the sound reaches the ear, opposed to Binaural Beats where the tones are combined within the brain itself.
The advantage with monaural beats is they can be listened to without the use of stereo headphones. For those that would like to listen to audio entrainment track through speakers, this may be a strong option.
Here is an example of a monaural beat track:
Opposed to binaural and monaural beats, isochronic tones don’t require two separate tones to form a beat. Rather, it uses a single tone, which turns on and off at an evenly spaced pattern. For example, a 10hz isochronic tone would turn on and off 10 times per second. Here is an audio clip of what this sounds like:
Research has found that isochronic tones to be the most effective form of audio entrainment. According to brainwave entrainment expert David Silver “They are an effective auditory entrainment method because they elicit a strong auditory evoked response via the thalamus and most people find them tolerable.
In 1981, Arturo Manns published a breakthrough study showing the effectiveness of isochronic tones. In his study, he used pulses of sound to successfully treat a form of chronic pain called Myofascial Pain Syndrome.
Types of Isochronic Tones
There are several types of isochronic tones, based on the way the tone is turned on and off. Let’s describe a few of these below:
- Square wave: Square wave isochronic tones involve instantaneous transitions between on and off. It is the harshest sounding isochronic tone, yet also the most powerful. Here is an example:
- Triangle wave: Triangle wave isochronic tones involve a continuous, linear ramp between on and off. It is much smoother sounding than the square wave, yet not as powerful. Here is an example:
- Sine wave: Sine wave isochronic tones involve a smooth transition between on and off. Sine waves are the smoothest sounding tone, and most often used for relaxation. Here is an example:
Chapter 6: Visual Entrainment: Photic Stimulation
Like sound, light has been used by various cultures throughout history to enter higher states of consciousness. From civilization’s earliest days, individuals such as medicine men, shaman, and priests learned to use the flickering of light coming from fire as ways to transcend reality and enhance their mental powers.
As we mentioned in the brainwave entrainment history chapter, around 200 A.D. Ptolemy found that when light passed the spokes of a spinning wheel, this caused feelings of euphoria, lightheadedness, and an assortment of shapes and colors in his field of vision.
Fast forward two thousand years. Today’s mind explorers use visual entrainment devices with the same aim of enhancing their brain. Modern science has shown how effective flickering light can be on our mood, cognitive performance, and cognitive performance.
In this section, we take a deep dive into what this technology is, and how it can be safely utilized to entrain the mind.
What is visual brainwave entrainment?
Visual brainwave entrainment (also known as photic stimulation) is a method of using constant, repetitive light pulses to entrain the brain. These flashes of light can be delivered in a number of ways: television or computer screens, strobe lights, LED eye sets, and even virtual reality goggles.
Studies have shown visual entrainment more effective than audio entrainment. One of the reasons this is true is the brain’s visual cortex being much larger than the auditory cortex. When the visual cortex becomes entrained, it can affect a greater portion of surrounding brain regions.
What is audio-visual brainwave entrainment (AVE)?
Audio-visual brainwave entrainment (AVE) is the simultaneous use of rhythmic sound and light to entrain the brain. Devices that deliver this stimulation can be called sound and light machines, mind machines, and audio-visual stimulation (AVS) machines.
Although visual entrainment is more effective than audio entrainment, combining the two together can create even more powerful effects. Since both the auditory and visual cortex are stimulated simultaneously, greater portions of the brain are susceptible to entrainment.
This technology may sound cutting edge, but combining both sound and light to alter the mind has been used for thousands of years. In his book Mega Brain, Michael Hutchinson writes:
“…humans have always been intrigued by the possibilities for influencing mental functioning that emerge from combining rhythmic sound and rhythmic light stimulation. Ancient rituals for entering trance states often involved both rhythmic sounds in the form of drum beats, clapping, or chanting and flickering lights produced by candles, torches, bonfires, or long lines of human bodies passing before the fire and chopping the light into mesmerizing rhythmic flashes. From Greek plays to Western opera, our most popular entertainment forms have made use of combinations of lights and sounds. Some composers, such as the visionary Scriabin, actually created music intended to be experienced in combination with rhythmic light displays.”
How To Safely Use Visual Brainwave Entrainment
Since visual brainwave entrainment can stimulate large areas of the brain, there are certain people who shouldn’t use this technology:
- Those who have history of seizures, (especially epileptics)
- Those who experience headaches/migraines from bright lights
- Those while driving vehicles or operating heavy machinery
- Those who wear a pacemaker
- Pregnant women
If you are under the use of medication (especially psychotropic substances), consult your physician before utilizing photic stimulation Those who are under the age of 18 should also consult with their physician.
According to the National Institute of Health, seizures from light stimuli is approximately 1 per 10,000, or 1 per 4,000 individuals age 5-24 years – roughly 0.3-3% of the population. Those who have a history of epilepsy have a 2-14% chance of having seizures due to photic stimulation.
On December 6, 1997, an episode of Pokemon was broadcast in Japan, which included footage of red-blue flashing lights. This resulted in 685 children being admitted to the hospital (only 24% of these children had a history of seizures).
In his article Audio-Visual Entrainment: Safety and Tru-Vu Omniscreen Eyesets, entrainment expert Dave Silver writes that:
- Red light to is linked with photo-convulsive response (PCR)
- Frequencies of 15-20 flashes per second cause peak PCR sensitivity
- Square wave photic stimulation can cause anxiety and panic attacks
- If using LED lights, make sure your device has a protective overlay between the light and your eye.
- If not unfiltered LED light could burn your retinas
- Photic stimulation alternating between the left and right eye could lead to nausea
When using photic stimulation device, it is unnecessary to keep your eyes open. In fact, most visual entrainment devices make it unsuitable to open your eyes. With your eyes closed, a suitable amount of neural signal will be sent to the visual cortex for entrainment to occur.
How Color Of Light Affects Brainwave Entrainment
Various colors delivered through photic stimulation have been shown to produce specific mental states.
- Violet – Violet is associated with wisdom and spirituality. Great for relaxation and pain relief.
- Indigo – Similar to violet, indigo is a great option for relaxation and pain relief.
- Blue – Calming color, great for relaxation. Known to enhance alpha activity. Good option for those who are photosensitive. Blue inhibits the production of melatonin, so avoid this color before bedtime.
- Green – Similar to blue, green is a soothing color excellent for relaxation sessions.
- Yellow – Best used to stimulate the brain in the beta range. Known to enhance creativity.
- Orange – An energizing color which could increase beta activity. Orange has been associated with increasing the appetite.
- Red – Stimulating color which is good for increasing beta activity. It can even suppress alpha brainwaves. Red is a great color to increase energy. Be especially careful with red lights as they are linked to photic induced seizures, panic attacks, and anxiety.
- White – Encompassing all colors, white is best used for visualization.
Chapter 7: Other Forms of Entrainment
Sound and light are the most popular methods to entrain the mind, yet there are a few other options in our toolbox. Using vibrational energy from sources such as magnets and electricity has been proven to help overcome addictions, depression, and even treat neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s. In this section, we cover these alternative forms of brainwave entrainment.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive brain stimulation technique using magnetic pulses to entrain the mind. It has been particularly successful in treating depression when patients have shown resistance to traditional forms of treatment.
TMS has also been effective in reducing anxiety, treating PTSD, treating OCD, treating substance abuse, and improving cognition. Of the methods listed on this page, TMS is the most practiced in medical fields.
During a TMS therapy session, large magnetic coils are placed against the patient’s scalp, typically near the forehead. This region of the brain helps regulate mood.
Once treatment begins, the polarity of the coils begins to rapidly change back and forth, delivering magnetic pulses to the desired neural region. The rhythms of these magnetic pulses help to entrain brainwaves to a target frequency.
To learn more about how Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) works, listen to our Warrior Radio podcast episode with brain stimulation expert Dr. Jay Sanguinetti:
Research and Further Reading:
- Rahnev, Dobromir. “Entrainment of neural activity using transcranial magnetic stimulation.” Journal of Neuroscience 33.28 (2013): 11325-11326.
- Thut, Gregor, et al. “Rhythmic TMS causes local entrainment of natural oscillatory signatures.” Current biology 21.14 (2011): 1176-1185.
- Thut, Gregor, and Carlo Miniussi. “New insights into rhythmic brain activity from TMS–EEG studies.” Trends in cognitive sciences 13.4 (2009): 182-189.
- Malcolm, Matthew P., et al. “Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation interrupts phase synchronization during rhythmic motor entrainment.” Neuroscience letters 435.3 (2008): 240-245.
Transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation (tACS)
Transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation (tACS) is a non-invasive brain stimulation technique using alternating electrical signals to entrain the mind. This technique has been found effective in improving learning, memory, focus, and mood.
tACS devices use 9-volt batteries, which are attached to two electrodes attached to desired areas of the scalp. These electrodes send sine waves of electric current 0.5-2 milliamps. tACS devices allow users to set the desired frequency these electric currents are sent, whether it’s in the alpha, beta, or theta range.
Although sending waves of electricity to your brain may sound scary, this method is low in risk. 2 milliamps of current is the equivalent of 1/500th the power of a 100 watt light bulb.
To learn more about how Transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation (tACS) works, listen to our Warrior Radio podcast episode with brain stimulation expert Dr. Jay Sanguinetti:
Research and Further Reading:
- Zaehle, Tino, Stefan Rach, and Christoph S. Herrmann. “Transcranial alternating current stimulation enhances individual alpha activity in human EEG.” PloS one 5.11 (2010): e13766.
- Ali, Mohsin M., Kristin K. Sellers, and Flavio Fröhlich. “Transcranial alternating current stimulation modulates large-scale cortical network activity by network resonance.” Journal of Neuroscience 33.27 (2013): 11262-11275.
- Fröhlich, Flavio, and David A. McCormick. “Endogenous electric fields may guide neocortical network activity.” Neuron 67.1 (2010): 129-143.
- Ozen, Simal, et al. “Transcranial electric stimulation entrains cortical neuronal populations in rats.” Journal of Neuroscience 30.34 (2010): 11476-11485.
Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)
Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is an invasive brain stimulation method, known to be successful in treating neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease (PD).
Parkinson’s Disease is a degenerative disorder which affects the nerve cells in the brain’s basal ganglia. The basal ganglia, which controls the body’s movement, is located deep within the brain.
As nerve cells in this region begin to die off, the person experiences symptoms such as tremors, slowness of movement, stiffness of muscles, loss of balance, and speech changes.
Deep Brain Stimulation is a method which helps to entrain the basal ganglia towards normal functioning. This method comprises of two steps.
The first step involves the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to locate the exact target of the brain where the PD stems from. Once located, a device called a neurostimulator is surgically implanted at this target.
It then sends out electrical impulses, which entrains this region of the brain towards normal neural activity. Almost immediately tremors begin to subside and they experience greater control of their body’s movement.
To learn more about how Deep Brain Stimulation works, listen to our Warrior Radio podcast episode with brain stimulation expert Dr. Jay Sanguinetti:
Research and Further Reading:
- Benabid, Alim Louis. “Deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease.” Current opinion in neurobiology 13.6 (2003): 696-706.
- Limousin-Dowsey, P., et al. “Thalamic, subthalamic nucleus and internal pallidum stimulation in Parkinson’s disease.” Journal of neurology 246 (1999): II42-II45.
- Benabid, Alim L., et al. “Long-term suppression of tremor by chronic stimulation of the ventral intermediate thalamic nucleus.” The Lancet 337.8738 (1991): 403-406.
- Benabid, A. L., et al. “Long‐term electrical inhibition of deep brain targets in movement disorders.” Movement Disorders 13.S3 (1998): 119-125.
Chapter 8: Putting Brainwave Entrainment Into Action
Now that you have a deep understanding behind brainwave entrainment, it’s time to put your knowledge into action. In this section, the rubber hits the road as we provide a clear action plan for BWE success. You’ll learn how to find high-quality entrainment systems, how to use them, and common mistakes to avoid.
What type of headphones will I need for BWE?
You’ll need a good pair of headphones to listen to audio entrainment tracks. You won’t need to splash out hundreds of dollars on high-end headphones, but you will need to make sure they are stereo and relatively clear sounding.
You can find great, high-quality pairs on amazon for $10 – $20. Stereo headphones are especially important when listening to Binaural Beats, as a different tone will be delivered to each of your ears. Even isochronic tones can make use of stereo panning, so it’s important you have headphones that can support this.
A typical entrainment session lasts around 25 minutes (some even last 1 hour+), so it’s important that you choose headphones that are comfortable to wear.
Noise canceling headphones are an excellent option, as they block any outside noise that would normally distract you during the experience. If you don’t have noise canceling headphones, be sure to listen indoors in a quiet, undistracted area.
How long does it take to induce entrainment?
Although marketing in the entrainment industry claims you’ll be able to enter deep states of meditation after pressing play, this is an exaggeration.
In reality, it typically takes 6 minutes to induce brainwave entrainment (if you are listening/watching to a high-quality entrainment session). This 6-minute marker is typical to induce alpha waves (12 Hz – 8 Hz). However, if you are looking to induce theta waves, it can take 30 minutes or longer for this to occur.
You should experience the benefits of the session for at least a few hours after it has ended. This is why it’s important to choose your sessions wisely. Don’t consume an energizing session before bedtime, or a relaxing session before an important work meeting.
How often should you consume entrainment sessions?
To get in shape, you wouldn’t expect to see results after the first workout. Moreover, you’d expect to get out of shape if you stop exercising altogether.
The mind works similarly. If your aim is to see long-term results like anxiety relief, or greater emotional regulation – don’t expect to see these results after your first BWE session.
Like getting in shape, it takes consistent effort over a period of time to see the benefits. A few weeks of regular BWE practice is required for your brain to forge new neural connections. Be patient during this time and stick with it. Once these new neural highways are constructed, you can experience results much faster and deeper.
Consistency is key. You’ll see far greater results listening to 10-minute sessions 6 separate days of the week than a single 60-minute session once.
Find a time of the day where you consistently have time to dive into a session. Right after waking up, or right before you going to bed is one of the best times of the day for BWE.
What is the ideal environment for a BWE session?
It’s important you create the right environment while experiencing a brainwave entrainment session. As we’ve stated, make sure your surroundings are quiet, and distraction free.
Sessions sometimes last over an hour, so be sure you are sitting in a comfortable position. It’s common to fall asleep during alpha/theta sessions if you are lying down, so be sure to sit up if you don’t want to end up snoozing.
Lighting incense or diffusing essentials oils can also help enhance the experience.
Where to find high-quality brainwave entrainment sessions?
Although brainwave entrainment has been scientifically proven to show real benefits, there is a slew of low-quality entrainment tracks scoured throughout the web.
There are over 3.5 million search results for the term “binaural beats” on google and 2.7 million for the same term on YouTube. With the sheer volume of options in front of you, it’s far too easy to lose time, money, and even see negative results (such as anxiety, or panic attacks).
Here are some tips when looking for an entrainment session:
1. High-quality entrainment tracks will typically come with information describing the mechanics of the session itself. They will note the target frequency, the type of entrainment style, the type of waveform, etc. They will also give directions on how to use the session. The creator should tell you when you should and shouldn’t use the session.
2. Be cautious of sessions that use square wave isochronic tones (instantaneous transitions between the sound/light turning on and off). These aggressive sounds cause a phenomenon called harmonics in the brain.
Think of a bowling ball being dropped in the middle of a pool. The first ripple caused by the bowling ball can be looked at as the target frequency of an entrainment session. The resulting secondary and tertiary ripples caused by the bowling ball can be looked at as harmonics.
If you are aiming for relaxation and listening to a 7hz alpha session with isochronic square waves, then harmonics at 14hz and 21hz will be created. Although your aim was to relax, these higher beta frequencies can cause anxiety and even panic attacks.
3. Look for brainwave entrainment sessions from trusted sources. Although the BWE commercial industry is large, there are only a few companies known to make high-quality entrainment systems. In the next chapter, we outline who these trusted companies are.
4. Be hesitant committing to any BWE system making wild claims. Profit fueled marketers with little to no experience in the BWE field have created a slew of low-quality entrainment systems on the market. These products typically make outrageous promises such as permanently enhancing the brain within minutes of use. Although BWE is a powerful method to improve the mind, it’s not a magic bullet.
5. As we talked about in the audio entrainment section of this guide, binaural beats don’t actually cause brainwave entrainment. This is one of the biggest misconceptions in the BWE industry, as most websites online make baseless claims touting their effectiveness. Look out for any BWE companies basing their entire system around this method.
Chapter 9: Additional Resources
Want to take your brainwave entrainment knowledge to the next level? We’ve got you covered. In this section, we’ll equip you with all the best resources to learn more about this neuro-technology. You’ll discover the best BWE books, blogs, forums, podcasts, and products available today.
List of Brainwave Entrainment Studies
- Transparent Corporation List of Studies – This comprehensive list outlines practically every study conducted in the field of brainwave entrainment.
- CraigT AVS – CraigT is one of the most knowledgeable individuals in this field. His blog teaches the science of BWE, and shares Craig’s self-experimentation adventures with BWE.
Brainwave Entrainment Forums
- Transparent Community Forum – The best forum on BWE hands down.
- Mind Place Community Forum – Another excellent forum on BWE (more focused on visual entrainment).
Advanced BWE Training
- Webinar: Brainwave Entrainment: Putting Research Into Action – 10 Hour webinar that provides a complete overview of the science and application of brainwave entrainment.
- Webinar: Hypnosis & Brainwave Entrainment – A collection of videos from Transparent Corporation’s 3 day workshop on hypnosis and brainwave entrainment (over 8 hours of content)
- Saybrook University Entrainment Online Course – A 30 hour online course on stimulation technology and entrainment taught by Dave Siever of Mind Alive.
Recommended Reading List
- Mega Brain Power, Michael Hutchison – Published in 1994, Mega Brain Power became a cult classic which popularized brainwave enhancing technology to a consumer audience.
- The Rediscovery of Audio-Visual Entrainment Technology, David Siever – One of the best resources that explains the science behind audio and visual entrainment.
- WR 009 : Diving Into The World of Audio-Visual Entrainment with Dave Siever – Interview with one of the foremost authorities on visual brainwave entrainment Dave Siever.
- WR 005 : Upgrading The Mind Using Brain Stimulation Technology – Dr. Jay Sanguinetti – Interview with brainwave stimulation expert Dr. Jay Sanguinetti.
- WR 004 : Bill Harris – Supercharging Meditation With Holosync – Interview with Bill Harris, the founder of one of the most popular audio entrainment programs called Holosync.
Recommended Visual Entrainment Products
- Mind Alive – Mind Alive is the entrainment company of Dave Siever, one of the pioneers in the field of brainwave entrainment research.
- Mind Place – Mind Place was one of the first companies to offer light and sound machines to the public. Their Kasina and Procyon devices are highly recommended.
Recommended Audio Entrainment Products
- Neuro Programmer 3 – One of the best software solutions to create your own entrainment tracks.
- Hemi Sync – The very first commercially available audio entrainment programs made by the Monroe Institute. They also host entrainment driven retreats at their personal development center in Virginia.