Brainwave entrainment for tinnitus
A number of tools that alter brainwave activity can help you achieve calm or focus
If you suffer from tinnitus, there are countless tools, techniques and strategies that can help you to find lasting relief from the sound and restore your quality of life. But in my eight years of working with tinnitus patients, very few coping tools or technologies have had more of a positive impact than brainwave entrainment.
Brainwave entrainment is a mind-altering technology that can be used to achieve a wide variety of altered states, each offering a range of interesting (and potentially therapeutic) benefits.
It can quickly induce relaxation to help relieve anxiety, panic, and stress. It can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply. It can effortlessly put you into deeper states of meditation. It can help you to concentrate and focus more intensely when tinnitus is bothersome, and in certain cases, it can even help you to habituate more quickly.
Brainwave entrainment has been an important part of my tinnitus coping and habituation toolkit since day one, and yet I find that very few people are even aware that this technology exists.
So, let's take a deep dive into brainwave entrainment technology and its incredible usefulness for tinnitus patients.
What exactly is brainwave entrainment?
Brainwave entrainment is a technique that uses rhythmic sensory stimuli in the form of sound, light, or vibration, to temporarily influence and alter your brain’s electrical patterns (brainwaves) to induce altered states of consciousness.
At any point in time, how you feel changes your brainwave patterns in a very specific way. In fact, there is a predictable and measurable brainwave pattern directly correlated with every possible mental state.
But when you temporarily change your brainwave patterns with brainwave entrainment, your mental state will automatically change as a direct result, reflecting the new pattern.
With brainwave entrainment audio specifically, you can profoundly and safely change how you feel in a very targeted way with the push of a button. You just have to press play, it’s that simple.
But if you have never experienced the mind-altering effects of brainwave entrainment, it’s hard to even imagine how something like this could be possible.
Understanding brainwaves and mental states
Brainwaves are simply the electrical communications of the 86+ billion neurons found in the human brain.
These electrical impulses are measured by their electrical frequency speeds in cycles per second, or Hertz (Hz), and grouped into five frequency ranges that we refer to as brainwaves.
From slowest to fastest, our five brainwaves are:
Brainwave activity is also closely correlated with how you feel.
If you were to hook yourself up to an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine to measure your brainwave activity in real time, you would likely see at least some low-level electrical activity across all five brainwave frequency ranges. But one of the five brainwaves will always have more activity than the rest, depending on your current mental state.
Here is a good description of the various mental states and tasks associated with heightened activity at each of our five brainwaves.
Right now, as you read this sentence, you are most likely in a low-mid Beta dominant brainwave state, which is correlated with concentration and alertness.
How exactly does brainwave entrainment work?
When you are exposed to a steady rhythmic external stimulus, such as pulses of sound, vibration, or light, the brain will start to synchronize its own electrical brainwave activity to the frequency of the external stimuli. This phenomenon is known as the frequency following effect.
When this occurs, you will start to experience the mental state directly associated with having more brainwave activity occurring at that frequency.
For example, if you listen to a repetitive sound pulsing at 10 Hz (10 pulses per second), your brainwaves will naturally synchronize to the frequency of the beat, and you will start to experience the specific state of relaxation and calm directly associated with increased 10 Hz Alpha brainwave activity.
It’s not placebo either - these changes are measurable via EEG. In the previous example, as you listened to the pulsing sound, you would begin to see an increase in 10Hz Alpha brainwave activity.
These changes typically take effect quickly too, making it an ideal tool for tinnitus coping. Most people can feel the effects of brainwave entrainment working in as little as 7-12 minutes.
Brainwave entrainment and tinnitus
I want to be very clear that brainwave entrainment (in any form) is not a treatment or a cure for tinnitus. But it is a powerful tool and technology that can help you cope more effectively with some of the most difficult aspects of tinnitus.
It can also be used to help a person habituate more quickly, albeit indirectly, by amplifying the effectiveness of certain habituation exercises and techniques.
When tinnitus is spiking or experienced as bothersome, it can trigger an intense fight-or-flight stress response that can never fully resolve, because the sound never stops. Instead, it becomes a vicious cycle, and the emotional and psychological impacts can become overwhelming and significant. (In my opinion, the condition that severe tinnitus most closely resembles is PTSD.)
Stress and anxiety levels start to rise quickly with some patients experiencing panic attacks. Many sufferers find it increasingly difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep with the sound blaring in their ears. Concentration tends to go out the window too, as it can be hard to focus on anything over the sounds of the tinnitus.
The good news is that brainwave entrainment is uniquely effective at countering many of the most distressing impacts of tinnitus.
Enhanced tinnitus coping with brainwave entrainment
For almost nine years now, I have been creating brainwave entrainment audio albums to help people better cope with tinnitus (and Meniere’s disease), as well as to help people meditate more effectively.
For tinnitus patients, brainwave entrainment can help in two very specific ways: As a coping tool to reduce the negative impacts of tinnitus as they occur, and as a tool to enhance habituation exercises.
When using brainwave entrainment as a coping tool, there are several interesting use cases. For example, if you increase Alpha and Theta brainwave activity, you can quickly induce deep states of relaxation and calm to counteract tinnitus anxiety and panic.
By increasing Delta activity, it can feel like you took a sleeping pill, and can help you fall asleep (or fall back asleep) much more quickly.
Brainwave entrainment audio can also increase focus, concentration, and energy levels without having to drink caffeine or take stimulants, which can trigger tinnitus, by increasing Beta brainwave activity.
Plus, with audio specifically, you do not need any specialized products or equipment to get the effects. And it doubles as tinnitus masking (aka sound therapy) to help reduce suffering even further.
If you have never experienced the mind-altering effects of brainwave entrainment, you don’t need to take my word for it. I offer many free tracks and samples for you to experience it firsthand.
Enhanced tinnitus habituation with brainwave entrainment
When it comes to enhancing tinnitus habituation with brainwave entrainment, things get a little bit more complicated. Successful habituation requires far more than simply reducing anxiety or improving sleep, though both are certainly important.
The basic idea is as follows: Meditation is an incredibly calming and relaxing mental exercise when you’re good at it and practice it often. Many people learn to meditate by focusing on their breath, a mantra, or a part of their body. But there is nothing special about the breath or a mantra, or anything else you might choose to focus on during meditation.
By choosing instead to focus on the sound of your tinnitus while you meditate, but still achieving the meditative state of calm and relaxation as a direct result of doing so, you are giving your brain and nervous system an entirely new and emotionally positive experience to start to associate with the sound of your tinnitus.
Anyone can learn and practice my tinnitus-focused meditation techniques without any special tools or audio. But meditating to the sound of your tinnitus and actually achieving a deep meditative state of relaxation and calm is very challenging, especially early on. That’s where brainwave entrainment can help.
Brainwave entrainment can be used to effortlessly get you into a deeper state of meditation than you could have achieved by yourself. And if you are using meditation to habituate, you can achieve faster results.
On my Tinnitus Relief Project album, I’ve created brainwave entrainment enhanced guided tinnitus-focused meditations. They not only mask some of your tinnitus volume but will help put you into a deeper meditative state than you would have been able to achieve on your own.
Ways to induce brainwave entrainment effects
There are three primary types of stimuli that can be used to induce brainwave entrainment effects: sound, light, and vibration, and for each there are a variety of different approaches.
There are different audio techniques that can be utilized to create specific brainwave entrainment effects. For a long time, binaural beats were the gold standard. This involved playing two very slightly different frequencies of sound in each ear. The brain perceives this slight difference as a single pulsing beat, causing the entrainment effect. Binaural beats work well, but require headphones, and are way less effective for hearing loss patients.
Isochronic tones are a newer and more powerful technique where audible pulses of sound are used to entrain the brain to specific frequencies. All of my albums feature isochronic tones, as they are generally much more effective than binaural beats, do not require headphones, and can be effective as long as you have at least some hearing left in one ear.
Similarly, flickering light pulses can be used in place of pulses of sound, however this generally requires specialized headsets designed specifically for this purpose to work well. It’s highly effective, and a great option for anyone with profound hearing loss or deafness. (MindPlace is one of my favorite companies for this type of brainwave entrainment.) The main downside to light-based brainwave entrainment is that you cannot do other activities while using the products.
Vibration can also be a highly effective means of inducing brainwave entrainment effects. It requires specialized equipment, but there are several consumer products on the market, such as the Apollo Neuro.
Vibration brainwave entrainment can be quite helpful for tinnitus patients as you can use it throughout the day in situations where playing audio or wearing headphones isn’t possible.
Important medical disclaimer
Brainwave entrainment is largely considered a safe and effective technology. However, brainwave entrainment should not be used by people who are prone to having seizures (or have had seizures in the past), epileptic, pregnant, or those who wear a pacemaker.
It's also important to remember that brainwave entrainment is mind altering and should not be used in situations where altered brain states may be unsafe, such as while driving or operating heavy machinery.
Lastly, not everyone will respond the same way to brainwave entrainment, and individual experiences can vary. I always recommend consulting with a healthcare professional, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or concerns.
'A kind of secret weapon'
Brainwave entrainment has been an important tool in my life for nearly two decades now. When I was in my teens, I would often use binaural beats to reduce stress and anxiety, and as a meditation aid.
Later on, when I started my first website, Mind Over Meniere’s, I knew that it would likely be able to help people to better cope with some of their symptoms and so I learned to engineer these audio tracks myself and starting producing my own albums.
In my work with tinnitus patients, brainwave entrainment has almost been a kind of secret weapon, supercharging my meditation-based habituation exercises, and offering an effortless coping boost to help alleviate acute suffering.
If you haven’t tried brainwave entrainment yet, I highly recommend giving it a shot to see if it can help you too!