Natural Way to Improve Memory: Binaural Sounds

Improve Memory with Sounds




By: Erin Stair, MD, MPH ( follow on Instagram) 

Is there a natural way you can improve memory? Yes, and I’ll write about many of them in the blog. One thing you can try  is binaural stimulation. Several studies have shown that listening to sounds presented in a certain sequence and frequencdy can improve a specific type of memory. The beauty of this approach is that all you have to do is listen. You don’t have to swallow anything, like a pill or supplement, so there are no serious side effects to worry about.

My interest in different types of sound therapy stemmed from being very sensitive to sounds around me. I started observing how different sounds made me feel and what they did to my breathing rate, heart rate, ability to focus, ability to reason, sleep and more. It’s really quite fascinating. On a basic level, you might notice how sounds affect you: loud drums or a strong beat when you’re trying to sleep; a car alarm or construction sound that just won’t stop; a babbling brook in the forest; the sound of crickets at night. Take a moment to think about how those different sounds affect your physiology and demeanor. This self-observation study led me to try out multiple kinds of sound therapy: sound baths, working with a music therapist, sound retreats in nature and finally to binaural stimulation and in-phase sequencing. That might sound overly nerdy or complex, but those two things form the science of ZENTones, or what I offer on my website here.

Sometimes finding the right sounds for the right outcome is tricky. I had an Algebra teacher who played classical music during our examinations to see if it impacted performance. Could sounds improve our test scores? Could listening to certain tones, beats or frequencies get me better grades? Could it help folks with ADHD? I found the classical music distracting. Subjectively, it irritated me and didn’t help me to perform better. At least one study ( albeit a small one) supports what I experienced. That is why it’s important to create therapeutic sound programs that stay as close to the sound interventions used in randomized controlled trials. You want to use what is proven to work. (If you have any questions about the science behind binaural acoustics, please my FAQ section.)

Is binaural stimulation a natural way to improve memory?  I think it’s definitely worth a try.

A study conducted at Virginia Tech and published in Plos One analyzed whether listening to binaural acoustic stimulations at frequencies 5 Hz, 10 Hz, 15 Hz or classical music would affect working memory in adults ( ages 19-46). Working memory is the brain’s system in control of processing and organizing information so you can reason, comprehend and make goal-oriented decisions. All of the adults wore headphones, because, as already mentioned, headphones are required for binaural beats to work. One frequency was presented to the left ear, another frequency was presented to the right ear, and the difference between the two frequencies was the frequency of the binaural beat. The binaural beat doesn’t exist in space like its two “parent” frequencies, which is why many refer to it as a phantom beat. Different states of mood and alertness are associated with each frequency, and the exact mechanism of action is mysterious. The most common explanation is “brainwave entrainment” but that is not proven. A growing body of research suggests it is a much more global and systemic effect, involving the parasympathetic nervous system and more.

Results of the study showed that binaural stimulation at 15 Hz significantly improved the accuracy of working memory, whereas the 5 Hz, 10 Hz and classical music negatively impacted working memory by reducing accuracy. 15 Hz is categorized as a Beta wave, and pure Beta waves are associated with improved concentration and focus. I’m happy to report that our pure Build Focus and Attention ZENTones are binaural stimulations at 15 Hz. (The ones for creativity are designed a little differently.) But this study is good news if you are looking for a natural way to improve memory. While we need more research, it potentially means that merely listening to sounds can improve memory. No “real” work, just listening.

Another study involving binaural acoustics and memory showed the importance of using the right frequency for the desired outcome. Participants who listened to binaural beta waves showed a significant improvement in their long-term memory, but participants who listened to binaural theta waves showed a significant decrease in memory. We design our focus and attention ZENTones in the beta range and our ones for stress reduction include theta waves. Different frequencies for different outcomes.  Another, albeit smaller, pilot study showed that binaural beats at the correct frequency can improve long-term memory.

Will listening to binaural stimulations of beta frequencies improve your memory and/or ability to focus? Will studying be easier? Will you get better grades? Will you remember things easier at work? Maybe. Everyone is different, confounding factors are everywhere, and a lot more research needs to be done to hash out the most optimal protocols. Still, given there are no major side effects, this type of “sound therapy” is worth a shot. Today there is an epidemic of “smart pills,” where otherwise healthy people take prescription stimulant pills for ADHD with hopes of achieving better grades. These pills have a slew of side effects and aren’t anything I’d put in my body. Side effects include mood changes, anxiety, insomnia, addiction, fluctuations in appetite and weight, and serious heart problems. (Subjectively, I think these pills cause a person to look older than his/her age, but that may have something to do with the deleterious effects on sleep.) Furthermore, a study of 898 college students shows that the pills  did not help students increase their GPAs or gain an advantage over their peers.  In fact, students who didn’t take smart pills had significantly higher increases in their GPAs.

So…, a slew of side effects and not a significant increase in GPA? Nah. No thanks. I’ll stick to natural. By the way, I listen to our Focus ZENTones before I start a medical writing project. In a field that requires you to be insanely detailed and accurate, I find that they help me focus. When I was taking classes in herbalism, I listened to them. When I write fiction, I listen to them. I use all of my ZENTones frequently. Want me to be super candid? Right now, I’m listening to the ZENTones for pain, because I have horrible menstrual cramps.

I LOVE ZENTones, which is why I love introducing others to them. I also follow the science, so if you have any questions for me, shoot me a mesage. I am happy to discuss.

If you’re interested in trying them out:

Click here to try our ZENTones.

Research suggests that you should listen for at least 20 minutes/ session for optimal benefit. If  your earbuds or headphones feel painful after a while, you can try one of our ZENBands and see if it feels better. I have sensitive ears, so listening with regular headphones can be painful after a while, especially if I try to listen while lying down. Fair warning: Mostly women wear the ZENBands. (You can stretch them out, though.)

If you are interested in my piece on binaural acoustics and anxiety, please click here. 

Thanks for reading, gang! If you use sounds or try our programs as a natural way to improve memory, write me and let me know. I love getting feedback and hearing about other people’s experiences. Some people don’t like them at all, and that’s okay too. We aren’t wired to experience everything the same way. ( And thank goodness, too. ;))

Also, I hope you check out my health podcast, which, I’m happy to report, is really increasing in popularity!! I feel good about that. 🙂 It’s called Causes or Cures.  Recorded right from my apartment in NYC. Check out some of the guests and topics and hope you subscribe! 🙂

Be safe, curious and kind out there,



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