Should You Try Binaural Beats for Migraine Pain?

Binaural beats may provide relaxation and reduce migraine-related pain

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Whether you like Beethoven or the Beatles, the benefits of music on your health are loud and clear. Advocates have long sung the praises of music therapy for the treatment of anxiety, stress, sleep disorders, and pain management. Can those same song beats provide pain relief for people with migraines?

More than 37 million people—or one out of every six Americans—experience painful migraine attacks. Migraines are headaches that develop into usually pulsating, debilitating pain. Migraines can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Many people with migraines try everything from nutrition to exercise programs to prescription medicines to what's called headache soothing music to find relief. Fortunately, a number of new therapies are available to treat migraines.

Benefits of Binaural Beats for Migraine

Stress management and relaxation techniques such as headache soothing music have been widely used to help treat and lessen migraine pain. Some research suggests that listening to different music tones—called binaural beats—might help release tension and stress. By making your mind relax, the beats may put you in a more comfortable frame of mind—which could help lessen migraine pain during an attack.

There’s a lack of extensive research regarding whether music or binaural beats in particular can reduce migraine symptoms or provide relief. Most doctors consider this therapy experimental. Yet, one small study assessed whether music intervention was helpful in the management of chronic pain. Participants who listened to music twice a day were able to reduce the use of pain medicines compared to those who did not hear any music.

BIPOC woman listening to headphones in a dim room

Delmaine Donson / Getty Images

Binaural Beats: How it Works

Binaural beats use two tones at different frequencies in each ear. The brain identifies the beat and creates an additional tone. This third tone is called a binaural beat.

To hear the binaural beat there must be sound coming into both ears. If you remove one of the sounds, you no longer will hear a binaural beat. Over a period of time, when binaural beats are sustained, they synchronize with brain waves. As a result, binaural beats can alter your brain wave activity.

Each frequency is associated with health outcomes that correspond to different levels of brain activity such as alertness, drowsiness, meditation, and sleep. It’s not fully understood, but music causes changes in the brain. Binaural beats are considered to induce the same mental state as meditation.

Types of Frequencies

Beats are associated with five different frequencies that result in different levels of brain wave activity. The measurement of the number of cycles these waves complete in a second is expressed in hertz (Hz). Higher hertz is associated with a higher frequency of sound.

Brain waves can be recorded with an electroencephalogram, or EEG. Gamma waves are the highest and fastest frequency of brain activity (between 30 and 50 hertz). This kind of brain wave is associated with concentration, alertness, and problem solving.

The lowest brain wave is the delta pattern, which has a frequency of 0.5–4 hertz and is thought to help you sleep better. Binaural beats help trigger the relaxing theta waves (4–8 hertz) related to meditation. Learn more about brain waves and frequencies in the following chart:

Types of Frequencies
Brain Waves Hertz (Hz) Characteristics
Gamma 30–50 Hz Linked to concentration, alertness and problem solving
Beta  13–30 Hz Associated with an active, alert mind, and improved memory
Alpha 8–13 Hz Connected to a relaxed and restful mind
Theta 4–8 Hz Related to drowsiness and meditation
Delta 0.5–4 Hz Linked to dreaming and deep sleep

Binaural Beats vs. ASMR

Binaural beats are not the only audio therapy associated with meditation. Autonomous sensory meridian response, also known as ASMR, can also put you in a meditative state. Known for triggering tingling sensations in the scalp and neck area, ASMR has become a YouTube phenomenon.

ASMR videos trigger tingling sensations caused by sounds such as whispering, soft tapping, and light scratching. If you don’t like these sounds, there are plenty of other videos with other calming sounds like crashing waves, raindrops, and crackling fires—similar to white noise for a good night’s sleep.

There is limited research examining the role of ASMR. One study has shown its effectiveness in improving relaxation, managing stress, and initiating sleep. The same study also indicated that ASMR may reduce the symptoms of chronic pain.

Setting the Soundtrack

Incorporating binaural beats into the management of migraine pain can be as easy as making your own playlist. YouTube and music streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora provide binaural music for listeners to download.

Advocates of binaural beats recommend dimming the lights, sitting in a comfortable chair, and listening for at least 30 minutes to ensure the rhythm is in sync with your brain. Some individuals using binaural beats for migraines prefer wearing headphones or earbuds, while others like listening through speakers to prevent the wearable devices from pressing against their heads.

A Word From Verywell

Available through music streaming services, binaural beats could be an alternative way to help treat and lessen migraine pain. While most doctors see it as experimental therapy, binaural beats could help put you in a peaceful state of mind—which could help lessen migraine-related pain. Music with binaural beats could become part of your management plan for treating migraine pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What binaural beat frequency helps with migraines?

    Most researchers recommend listening to binaural beats at the theta brain wave frequency (4–8 hertz). This frequency is associated with meditation and relaxation.

  • Which sounds should you avoid with a migraine?

    Loud noises increase the pain of migraines. The pain usually persists even when the noise has ended. Loud and forceful noises not only contribute to worsening migraine attacks, but they can also trigger attacks. Stop listening if music and binaural beats are worsening the painful effects of the migraine.

  • How does headache soothing music work?

    Stress management and relaxation techniques such as headache soothing music have been widely used to help treat and lessen migraine pain. Some research suggests that listening to different music tones might help release tension and stress. Making your mind relax could help lessen migraine pain.

  • Are binaural beats dangerous for migraines?

    Binaural beats are a healthy and safe way to achieve relaxation. When migraine attacks occur, some people become sensitive to sound and seek silent environments. Others may find music to be soothing and helpful in reducing stress during a migraine attack. If you’re looking for an alternative way to manage migraine pain, talk to your doctor about binaural beats.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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