Sound Asleep: Student Uses Binaural Beat Entrainment as a Sleep Aid

3/31/2014

Music & Technology student Jesse House conducted a human-based medical study for his Senior Design Project to research whether or not binaural beat entrainment can be used as a sleep aid. While the concept of binaural beating, in which auditory recordings use specially generated sounds to alter brainwaves, is 175 years old, using them to induce sleep has yet to be adequately researched.

It was more than the desire to catch more Z’s that inspired House to pursue his project. At the age of sixteen, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and was placed on a regiment of chemotherapy and radiation, as well as the associated prescription drugs that were used to offset the side effects caused by his aggressive treatments. Because of this, he developed insomnia, and rather than adding another drug to his treatment, he took it upon himself to find a more natural solution for his sleeplessness.

“The ability of the binaural beats to lull me to sleep was surprisingly dependable,” he said. “I chose this option to deal with sleeplessness over the option of drug intervention because of the attractiveness that the lack of side effects associated with binaural beating held.”

Even though little research exists on the legitimacy of binaural beat entrainment, House had very positive experiences using it to induce sleep, and decided to study it further when he came to Stevens. He undertook courses in software instrument design, musical acoustics, and philosophy of mind, among others, in order to deepen his understanding of sound, computer coding platforms, and neural pathways.

“Without the knowledge I’ve gained through my studies in Music & Technology this project would have been impossible,” he said. “Every step of the way, from the psychoacoustic principles exploited to coding the algorithm in Pure Data, I’ve relied heavily on the skills and knowledge given to me through my studies at Stevens to complete this research.”

Even with the necessary skills to undertake the project, House needed clearance from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to perform a human research study on campus, a thorough process in which the Board seeks to assure the safety of all parties involved and also to ensure that the research is conducted in an ethical and consensual manner. He, along with his advisor Prof. Rob Harari, enlisted the support of an Emergency Medical Technician because there is a rare possibility that binaural beats can cause a cardiac or neurological emergency. Once approved, he began the listening trials with seven healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 64 with no prior neurological or cardiac medical histories.

“I designed the clinical listening study by first developing a computer-coded patch, dubbed ‘BinauralSleep’, which has user-configurable audio parameters such as beat rate and music volume to match the user’s preference,” he said. “Research subjects listened to the patch, complete with binaural beating, music, and pink noise [a form of filtered white noise], through headphones in a relaxing atmosphere while we recorded their brainwave activity using an electroencephalogram (EEG).”

After the thirty-minute session ended, House initiated a simple social interaction that was used to measure the subjects’ awareness based their reaction or lack of reaction. He also administered surveys to determine the effects of the patch. So far, the results have been promising.

“I’ve had about a 50% success rate at inducing sleep so far. It is notable that this is occurring in an uncomfortable environment, with EEG leads and headphones attached to subject’s head, and in a short amount of time,” he said.

House believes that his research study is a first step in legitimizing binaural beat applications for sleep induction, and further research could strongly impact the healthcare industry.

“If binaural beating can be shown to induce sleep, it could become a viable non-drug solution to sleeplessness, which would have massive medical applications for the millions of people suffering from sleep disorders like insomnia,” he said. “This deserves further research because of the potential it holds to go against the norm of drug intervention.”

Upon graduation, House hopes to partner with Keith McMillen Instruments, where he currently works as a product specialist, to build the hardware component for the BinauralSleep patch and explore new headphone technologies to improve its delivery method. He has also secured a position with Stevens’ Information Technologies department, and will continue working as a music sound technician in Bridgewater, NJ. 

This project will be displayed at the Stevens Innovation Expo held on April 30th on the Stevens campus, an annual, one-day, campus-wide event which displays the extensive research and innovation accomplishments of faculty and students.

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To learn more about the Music & Technology program at Stevens, visit www.stevens.edu/musictech.

About Stevens Institute of Technology
Stevens Institute of Technology, The Innovation University®, is a premier, private research university situated in Hoboken, N.J. overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Founded in 1870, technological innovation has been the hallmark and legacy of Stevens’ education and research programs for more than 140 years. Within the university’s three schools and one college, more than 6,100 undergraduate and graduate students collaborate with more than 350 faculty members in an interdisciplinary, student-centric, entrepreneurial environment to advance the frontiers of science and leverage technology to confront global challenges. Stevens is home to three national research centers of excellence, as well as joint research programs focused on critical industries such as healthcare, energy, finance, defense and STEM education and coastal sustainability. The university is consistently ranked among the nation’s elite for return on investment for students, career services programs and mid-career salaries of alumni. Stevens is in the midst of a 10-year strategic plan, The Future. Ours to Create., designed to further extend the Stevens legacy to create a forward-looking and far-reaching institution with global impact.