Binaural Beats Had No Five Minute Payoff

I conducted an N of 1 study on the effect of binaural beats during a five minute meditation.  My colleague Tim Hanrahan had turned me on to Brain.fm after having written a post about them.

I have always had a soft spot for binaural beats since I discovered the Monroe Institute and hemispherical synchronization while a cadet at West Point. As an aspiring Intelligence Officer, the promise of listening to some frequencies and being upgraded to being able to do remote viewing was too good an opportunity to resist. I envisioned a career of thwarting the Soviet threat armed only my mind and a Sony Walkman. I thought I would be the one to write books like this:

PSYCHIC SOLDIER

But alas, many hours of listening to my special cassette tapes never yielded enough remote viewing skill to be assigned to the psychic corps. All my snooping ended up being electronic. Ho hum. With this background using binaural beats I was ready to try a far less grandiose use case using Brain.fm’s service.

My Question

During a five minute meditation, will using binaural beats be effective in increasing my heart rate variability (HRV) and thus my physiological calm during the session?

What I Did

For 52 sessions of five minutes each, I measured my HRV while either listening to Brain.fm’s unguided meditation soundtrack or to no sound at all.

brain.fm

To ensure I controlled for differences in time of day and physiological condition, at each sitting I did two consecutive five minute sessions, one with the beats and the other without. I used a random number generator to determine whether I used beats first or second in each session. This way each beats session had a corresponding control session with the same physical conditions present.

How I Did It

I used the Brain.fm site while wearing a standard set of earbud headphones and wearing a Polar H7 heart rate belt bluetooth connected to Marco Altini’s Heart Rate Variability Logger app. The HRV measurement I tracked was rMSSD.

All readings were sitting relaxed in a chair breathing at a constant rate, and mental strategy was just the simple “in/out” verbalization of basic meditation.

At the end of the period, I looked at the difference in rMSSD using both a TTest and Wilcoxon ranked sum test.

What I Learned

For me, binaural beats had no five minute payoff. There was no significant difference in my HRV levels when using them or sitting in silence. Both the TTest and the Wilcoxon confirmed this with P values of .98 and .52 respectively.

My subjective experience was that the time in meditation seemed to go much faster when listening to the beats and the associated music. Perhaps the mind was engaged in some way and in doing that the experience of time quickened.

My interest in using binaural beats was as a quick modifier to  my physiological state prior to a meeting or one on one conversation. It would have been useful if I could do a quick frequency induced calming session like I can with BreatheSync. For that specific use binaural beats would not contribute any value.

I reached out to the founders of Brain.fm for their thoughts.They engaged in the discussion and wrote that entrainment does not begin until 10 minutes into the session. I had never seen that written anywhere but I have definitely confirmed that nothing happens at the five minute mark. They also shared a peer reviewed study on the use of brain entrainment to elevate HRV. In that study, the participants listened to the frequencies for 20 minutes and had their HRV measured.

Though I won’t think of binaural beats as a useful preparatory tool at the office I am still interested in seeing if I can replicate the effect reported in the study. I am designing a followup to that end. If you would like updates on this and other studies, make sure you sign up for the QuantXLaFont newsletter and stay tuned here as we look for truly effective ways to heighten alertness and performance.
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5 thoughts on “Binaural Beats Had No Five Minute Payoff

  1. Another nice experiment. This is exactly what you need to do in order to find something special some day. I just read an article from The New York Times Magazine (” Does the truth lie within?”) about Seth Roberts on his experiments over a decades.
    The stuff he discovered is amazing and it takes a lot of hard labour, persistence and looking in directions others won’t bother to do. I see you doing the same and you already learned a lot and shared it with others. Maybe someday you hit the jackpot and find out something exceptional? I would love to see that happen. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks for the kind words Peter. The challenging bit is coming up with a framework for a study that is not an another repetition of things that commercial sellers of devices would have us look at (steps, pills, etc). We’ll keep pushing the boundaries. Cheers

  2. Hey there. Thank you very much for your interesting post.

    According to my experience it is really difficult to measure the effects of Binaural Beats. I have the feeling that the entrainment effects are somehow cumulative and add up with exercisie and experience, even without entrainment. Like a person getting a bigger chest because of doing push-ups.

    One possibility to measure the effects would be measuring the sleep quality (e.g. with a Zeo) every night without entrainment and then doing maybe 30 minutes of Delta Wave Entrainment every night for 3 weeks or something like this. If my hypothesis is true there should be an increase in delta / deep sleep.

  3. Interesting experiment. I’ve been using a binaural beats meditation for quite a few years now but have only used “gut feel” to measure rather than anything empirical. Intuitively I feel generally more relaxed so I’m happy with that.

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