Although sound and brain waves have been associated with improved sleep in past research, they have only examined general correlations between them. A new Northwestern University study has taken research on binaural entrainment to a new level, using an algorithm customized to the person, reducing the risk of unwanted side effects seen in more traditional approaches such as dizziness and disorientation.
Developed by Giovanni Santostasi, Ph.D., the program examined the relationship between sleep quality, cognition and metabolic function. Dr. Santostasi’s algorithm reads a person’s specific EEG frequencies (brain waves measured using electroencephalography, a technique that measures voltage fluctuations in neurons), matching bursts of sound to certain waves of sleep. The soft static, or pink noise was designed to match the participants’ natural delta waves experienced during slow wave sleep (in stage three of non-rapid eye movement sleep).
“Sleep deprivation, particularly of deep sleep, has been linked to poor cardio-metabolic functioning as well as problems in cognition. There have been attempts at improving deep sleep with moderate success, but these approaches many times have unwanted side effects,” said Nelly Papalambros, co-author of the study and graduate student at Northwestern University’s Interdepartmental Neuroscience Ph.D. Program.
Where traditional binaural techniques rest on the notion that the mind has a tendency to adjust its brain waves to ones being heard, Northwestern University’s study synced their frequencies to the person’s. Older people were found to generally have less slow (delta) waves, with their amplitudes (height of the waveform/loudness) diminishing as well. Since delta waves are associated with memory consolidation as well as metabolic issues, the researchers used two tests to determine whether atrophying brain waves can be stimulated to reduce the risk of these problems.
Improvements in memory and metabolic function
For the first study, participants with an elevated risk of heart disease stayed overnight at an inpatient sleep research center. Their basic physiological data was monitored, including insulin, hormones, blood glucose and inflammation levels in addition to information regarding their sleep habits. Measuring changes in the amplitude of the brain waves with and without binaural stimulation, the authors found that sound does enhance deep sleep (stages three to five) in young people, while most likely having a positive effect on older adults as well.
Dr. Santostasi and Papalambros also studied the effect of deep sleep on memory and cognition, giving the participants a word pairing test before and after they fell asleep, finding the test group with the binaural stimulation to perform better than the control.
Although both tests investigated only acute effects of sound stimulation on health, the authors believe that their tailored brain waves can be used over weeks or months to produce long lasting changes. By helping our patients become more in tune with their mind-body connection, we can not only help them alleviate symptoms of withdrawal but restore cognitive function as well. If you would like more information on White River Academy or our approach to brain waves and neurofeedback, feel free to browse the rest of our site for Recommended Reading.