Tag Archives: Heart Rate Variabilty

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:


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.


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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Measuring Muse Mindfulness vs HRV

The more experienced you get with taking your own measurements you will find that even the smallest technique change can alter readings. A wary Quantified Selfer will be aware of this and control for variation. I found this when I measured Muse Mindfulness vs HRV.

Early in my self-measuring career, I discovered that real-time data can cause a stress reaction I called Freakback and I even tried to describe its  anatomy. When your reading is telling you that you are not relaxed you try to force relaxation and that causes stress which raises the stress reading. Eventually the amplitude of stress reaches “not inconsiderable discomfort.”

Each morning I measure my heart rate, EEG, glucose and ketone level. From these readings I get the measure of how much energy I have for the day ahead and can see the impact of the previous day’s activity and sleep on my physiology.

Muse Mindfulness vs HRV

My Question

When taking my EEG and heart rate, is it better to take the readings simultaneously or have one precede the other?

The Resulting Potential Action

Based on the result I would alter my morning meditation session to either take the heart rate and EEG reading together or  take one reading before the other. This resultant technique I would consistently use to ensure any variability came from external factors rather than my changes in data gathering technique.

What I Did

To measure my heart rate I used a Polar H7 heart rate belt, an iPhone6 and the Heart Rate Variability app. The output was my resting heart rate, rMSSD, Low and High Frequency of Heart Rate Variability (HRV).

For my EEG, I used the Muse headset connected to an iPod5. This gave me a %Calm score after taking a baseline of active thinking.

First, I took readings simultaneously for 15 mornings. This meant I calibrated the Muse, turned on the HRV reading then breathed rhythmically using a breath pacer. At the end of 5 minutes I had both readings.

Next, I took the Muse readings first, then HRV for 10 mornings. The difference here is that during the Muse readings I was counting breaths with eyes closed, during HRV I using a breath pacer. So my method of concentration was different unlike the simultaneous readings.

Finally, for 13 mornings I switched the order with the HRV session first and the Muse session following.

After each session I entered the values manually into a Google spreadsheet for analysis.

What I Learned

The most efficient way for me to measure my EEG and heart rate in the morning is to conduct the readings simultaneously.

Because I could only look at correlations rather than causes in this study it was important to me that when I was calm and balanced the two readings would show some consistency. For example, if I had a poor nights sleep I would think that my %Calm and rMSSD readings would both be lower. So the correlation of the two readings was important to me.

Taking my HRV and %Calm reading at the same time had a strong positive relationship as you can see here from the Pearson correlations:

  • HRV before Muse; r = -.14 (No relationship)
  • Muse before HRV; r = -.77 (Very strong negative relationship)
  • HRV same time as Muse; r = +.48 (Strong positive relationship)

The other methods show interesting differences in readings based on a variance in technique. It seems logical that an upset physiology would show low readings in the same 10 minute period. Or vice versa.

Instead when I shifted from simultaneous readings to using Muse first, there was a very strong negative correlation. That meant when I had a session with a high %Calm EEG reading a lower HRV would immediately follow. Or when I was thoughtful and had low %Calm my HRV was higher. I am open to comments on why that may be. It is a unique outcome that needs further testing as there may some interesting things going on.

When I took the HRV reading before the Muse reading there was no relationship. Somehow that sequence of reading scrambled the signal because there does seem to be a relationship between %Calm and rMSSD when read at the same time. So I have discarded that technique.

As a quick check I compared the average %Calm reading with an average scaled rMSSD (translating it to a scale between 1 – 100) for each of the three techniques. Here is the result:

Muse Mindfulness vs HRV

The average rMSSD was close across the board (45 – 51%) but the %Calm was much lower for the HRV before Calm and much higher in Calm before HRV. Some ideas for this may be that the time pressure of wanting to complete the reading and get on with my day may impact the mindfulness. But that is for further verification.

So with these results I will use Muse and my HRV apparatus simultaneously to measure the waking state of my physiology. I will set up the process so it is automatic and consistent, and begin testing external influences on the morning state.