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Scientists Induced REM Sleep Using Only Sound

Scientists Induced REM Sleep Using Only Sound

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In a recent study, researchers were able to induce REM sleep using nothing but sound. The research team used a new technology based on auditory closed-loop stimulation, which is one known method of affecting brain waves during sleep. 

When you’re in deep, restorative sleep, your brain waves are primarily in the delta pattern. The scientists found that auditory stimulation during sleep briefly increased then suppressed theta waves, which is the brain wave pattern detected while you’re asleep and dreaming or when you’re awake and feeling listless and unfocused. It also increased beta waves, which are present when you’re thinking through something. This pattern induced the REM sleep state in the treatment group of participants. 

This is not the first time that sound was understood to have an effect on brain waves. Sound has been used for thousands of years to shift the state of mind. Think about soothing a crying baby with a song, or a meditative shamanic ritual involving drumming to induce a trance-like state. 

Since scientists have been able to measure brain wave activity, they have been able to see exactly what sound stimulation does to the brain. 

Music and your physical state

Rem Sleep

Have you ever turned on a happy song to cheer yourself up when you were upset? Or, turned on a slow, calm, rhythmic song to help you relax in the bathtub? Think about what kind of songs you add to your workout playlist – are they slow and quiet, or louder and upbeat?  

People have used music for a long time to influence the body’s state. Music has an effect on your body’s physiology, more than you may realize. Here’s what the science says…

  • In one study, researchers found that people tend to prefer fast tempo music to slower music when exercising intensely. Along the same lines, in another study people reported less fatigue during a bench stepping exercise when the right music was playing. 
  • Music can also affect your autonomic nervous system, which controls your heart rate and breathing without your having to think about it. One review explored ways that different types of music affects heart rate and respiratory rate. Music was found to decrease cortisol, a primary stress hormone, when played after a stressful event. 
  • Music can also change your mood and mind. While marketers have suspected this for some time, researchers found that music can influence mood while shopping as well as purchase intent. That’s why you’ll mostly hear happy songs in stores. 

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Sound and brain waves

The REM study specifically targeted brain waves with sound. Long-standing research has been able to link sound stimulation with changes in brain waves. 

Binaural beats are of particular interest, as they have been used as an approach to a wide range of issues such as sleep, feelings of anxiousness, mood, pain, focus, and more. Binaural beats involve playing separate tones into each ear. Each tone varies only slightly, by just a few Hz. The idea is that the brain “corrects” the two tones and makes a wave in the process. The frequency range determines which brain wave pattern the sound will elicit. 

Researchers aren’t in total agreement whether or not binaural beats can be used for therapeutic purposes, but anecdotally, some people swear by binaural beats tracks and apps (paired with high quality headphones) for increased concentration, increased feelings of calm, to wind down at the end of the day, and even to help get into a meditative state faster. 

Knowing how much sounds affect your mind and body, how will you be more intentional about the sounds and music in your life?