Listening to music at work can make you more productive; and to boost your brainpower and resist mental fatigue, try listening to a specialized type of music called binaural beats, says a recent study in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement.
Staying tuned in and on task during demanding mental tasks or tedious work can leave you feeling drained. It’s not just feeling tapped out of brainpower that can come as a result of engaging your mental faculties—it can cause actual deficits in your attention and slow your reaction times. It’s especially concerning in fields where reaction time is everything, such as pilots, long distance truck drivers, etc.; but even having a long day at work can cause the same type of mental fatigue, making the commute home or decision-making more perilous.
To relieve mental fatigue, scientists at the University of Southern Denmark studied the effects of binaural beats on cognition. Binaural beats are two beats played at different frequencies in each ear. The frequencies are generally around 179 Hz in the right ear and 165 Hz in the left ear. When the human ears hear the different beats coming from each ear, it causes the brain to fall into neural entrainment—that is, the brainwaves synchronize with auditory stimulus. The brain takes the two different frequencies and unites the beats into a single, combined tone equal to the difference between the two beats (usually around 14 Hz).
Binaural beats are common in the background music for guided meditations, and you can add them in to most of the meditation/calming music apps available today. It’s best to listen to binaural beats with headphones for the full effects.
This study used a mindfulness app called Headspace and invited volunteers to practice mindfulness daily for 4 weeks. The study tested their mind wandering during a sustained attention task, then the participants were treated for 90 minutes for their mental fatigue. After both of these segments, a mood assessment survey was given to the participants. Based on the results of the assessment, the participants either listened to a guided mediation (without binaural beats) or listened to an audio track with binaural beats in the background for 12 minutes.
The study discovered that mental fatigue was relieved by the binaural beat track. Simply adding in 12 minutes of binaural beats and engaging in mindfulness training for a period of 4 weeks relieved mental fatigue and helped the participants’ focus on sustained attention tasks.
The researchers hypothesize that listening to binaural beats helps the mind resist wandering and increases attention, which takes pressure off the already fatigued mind. Additionally, listening to music helps the mind relax.
Like any mindfulness or meditation training, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Participants who were previously experienced in meditation and mindfulness practices already had an edge over those who hadn’t practiced any of those techniques. They performed better even from the first cognitively demanding tasks.
Axelsen, Johanne Lundager, et al. “On-the-Spot Binaural Beats and Mindfulness Reduces the Effect of Mental Fatigue.” Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, vol. 4, 11 Jan. 2020, pp. 31–39., doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-019-00162-3.