About a year ago, I began listening to a binaural beats playlist on Spotify. Although the playlist was designed to induce sleep, I listened to it while writing and editing to create a peaceful ambiance in my home office. I’m not sure if the playlist was anymore relaxing than your average yoga-meditation blend, but I came to love it. It takes the edge off a day that’s been busy with multi-tasking—sort of like a warm mug of chamomile tea in music form.
In short, binaural beats are simply two beats, one in each ear delivered at varying Hz to stimulate a certain brainwave frequency, aiming to induce a particular state—delta (deep sleep, pain relief), theta (REM sleep, meditation), alpha (relaxed focus, stress relief), and so on. Most binaural beats songs include some melody, chimes, or white noise.
There’s been some debate about how effective binaural beats actually are, and researchers are still learning about how to use them best, but it’s easy to see how these, or any relaxing music, could become an important part of one’s self-care ritual.
But this isn’t about binaural beats.
Although I still listen to my binaural beats soundtrack, I’ve found a new aural love: Weightless by Marconi Union. Marconi Union is a British ambient band that worked with therapists at the British Academy of Sound Therapy to develop truly relaxing music capable of lowering the listeners’ blood pressure, stress levels, and heart rate. The dreamy tracks feature piano, natural sounds, chimes, and guitar. Allow the tracks can be described as somewhat melodic, they do not follow a consistent melody, which, in theory, prevents your ear from predicting the next line of music, allowing your brain to relax.
The rhythm and length of the tracks also play an important role. According to Lyz Copper of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, the music “contains a sustaining rhythm that starts at 60 beats per minute and gradually slows to around 50,” which encourages the listener’s heart rate to slow to match the beats of the track. “It takes about five minutes for this process, known as entrainment, to occur,” she explains. The tracks are about 8 minutes long.
Does Weightless it actually work?
Mindlab International put Weightless to the test. In their study, participants were connected to sensors while attempting to solve challenging puzzles in a short amount of time (a task designed to induce stress). The participants listened to various songs while the researchers measured brain activity, heart rate, blood pressure, and rate of breathing.
Weightless was the most effective at relaxing the participants. Those listening to Marconi Union experienced a 65% reduction in anxiety and a 35% reduction in usual physiological resting rates. Furthermore, Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International said, “Weightless was so effective, many women became drowsy and I would advise against driving while listening to the song because it could be dangerous.”
I tried it.
You would think that having a fourth-month-old around would leave me constantly wanting a nap, but the frustrating truth is that I’ve only had two naps since my baby was born! I often feel tired and drowsy but too wired/scattered/watchful to drift off when my baby is dozing and the house is peaceful. But trust me, I’ve tried to “sleep when the baby sleeps.”
My sleep is off during the night, too. Sometimes I wake up around 2 AM and have trouble drifting back to sleep until 5 or so. (This started during pregnancy and could be hormonal.) Meanwhile, my husband and baby are far off in dreamland. *Sigh*
One night I found myself tossing and turning, so I played Weightless very quietly on the little bluetooth speaker I have by my bed (I still wanted to keep my ears available in case my little one woke up—something I couldn’t do with binaural beats since you need a headphone in each ear for them to work their magic on your brainwaves.)
At first, I thought the music sounded a little eerie and somber—I was so used to the friendly spa ambiance of my binaural playlist! But I started to relax within minutes (perhaps during that five-minute window for entrainment? who knows!). I woke up a few hours later to find that Spotify had moved on to a different but similar artist (Café Del Mar). I turned off the music with that wonderful, rare feeling of knowing I could slip back into silky, sleepy goodness the second I closed my eyes again. And I did.
Should you listen to Weightless?
When it comes to easing stress, Weightless may be your dream relaxation playlist. Or it may not. Some people may have a stress response to music designed to induce calm. I have a friend who finds her zen through metal. Likewise, ideal sleeping environments are highly varied. If you’re already sleeping well, I don’t suggest changing your routine at all. However, if you find yourself tossing and turning while everything around you is seemingly optimized for sleep, tuning into a little Marconi Union may be just the thing.
What’s on your favorite relaxation playlist?
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