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How Auditory Stimuli or Sounds Affect Our Neurotransmitters (Focus, Relaxation, Anxiety, & More)

I aim to elucidate how different types of music, sound frequencies, natural soundscapes, and even binaural beats can strategically influence our brain chemistry throughout different times of the day and during varied tasks. In essence, we're exploring the scientific basis of how sound influences cognition, concentration, and productivity.

To provide context for this exploration, it's crucial to understand brainwaves: their formation and their connection to neurotransmitters. To grasp this, a basic understanding of neuroanatomy is vital.


The central nervous system, comprising the brain and spinal cord, consists of two main cell types: Neurons (signal-sending and receiving nerve cells) and Glia (cells providing structure). Each neuron comprises a cell body, an axon, and a dendrite. Inside the cell body lies a nucleus that regulates the cell's functions and houses its genetic material. Axons relay messages, and dendrites, resembling tree branches, receive them. Neurons communicate through neurotransmitters, chemicals produced by neurons and sent across synapses.

The process of how a neuron gets stimulated and sends a neurotransmitter can be delineated into five steps:

1. Resting Phase: The neuron has a resting membrane potential of about -70 mV. This state is maintained by ion pumps like the sodium-potassium pump.

2. Stimulation: A neuron needs an external/internal factor for stimulation. This could be a neurotransmitter or other stimuli.

3. Depolarization: On stimulation, ion channels open, allowing positive charge into the neuron. Reaching around -55 mV, the action potential threshold, sodium channels open.

4. Action Potential: Sodium rushes into the neuron, depolarizing it. As potential nears +30 mV, potassium channels open to release positive charge, starting repolarization.

5. Synaptic Transmission: After this, the neuron’s action potential travels its axon length to the synaptic terminals, prompting neurotransmitter release into the synapse.

When billions of neurons operate in tandem, electrical activity patterns, known as brainwaves, emerge.

Two primary neurotransmitters, Gaba (inhibitory) and Glutamate (excitatory), illustrate how varying brainwaves are produced. Increased activity of excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamate might result in higher-frequency brainwaves like beta waves. Conversely, inhibitory neurotransmitters like GABA can lead to lower frequency brainwaves, like delta waves.

For instance, benzodiazepines like Xanax, which increase GABAergic activity, tend to promote slower brainwave frequencies such as delta (which is why this drug is often used as anti-anxiety medication).

Brainwaves, categorized by frequency, include:

- Delta Waves (0.5–4 Hz): Predominant in deep sleep.

- Theta Waves (4–8 Hz): Linked with lighter sleep, relaxation, and meditation.

- Alpha Waves (8–14 Hz):Associated with relaxation and alertness.

- Beta Waves (14–30 Hz): Related to wakefulness and cognitive tasks.

- Gamma Waves (30–100+ Hz): Tied to advanced cognitive functions.

Remember that external stimuli, like sound frequencies or binaural beats can induce specific brainwave states. And in an attempt to maintain that brainwave state, researchers believe the brain increases activity of certain neurotransmitter-releasing neurons. For example, binaural beats might elevate delta wave activity, which then might possibly boost GABAergic neuron activity in order to maintain that delta wave activity. This is still being researched.

How to Use Auditory Stimuli & Brainwave Entrainment to Optimize Your Workflow

Now, let’s delve into how various sounds and music influence brainwave activity. Different sounds can be tailored to stimulate relaxation, concentration, meditation, or other states, and research confirms that external auditory stimuli can modify brainwave patterns.

To optimize auditory stimuli for various tasks:

1. Morning Meditation: Use alpha waves to bridge wakefulness and active thinking.

2. Work and Problem Solving: Use beta waves to enhance focus and decision-making.

3. Creative Work: Use theta waves to boost creativity and intuition.

4. Deep Work: Use Gamma wave entrainment to aid in complex information processing.

5. Breaks or Short Meditations: Use alpha or theta waves to facilitate relaxation.

6. Evening Relaxation: Use alpha and then theta waves to aid in transition to sleep.

7. Deep Meditation or Sleep: Use delta waves.

Music’s influence on brainwave activity varies. For example, Mozart’s Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos K448 increases alpha band power and improves spatial performance. Conversely, Beethoven’s "Für Elise" showed no significant EEG changes.

Monochord sounds, used in music therapy, enhance relaxation, as evidenced by a reduction of anxiety in chemotherapy patients. Likewise, “pleasant” music augments alpha and diminishes beta activity in individuals with depression (a shift that promotes more relaxation).

Finally, binaural beats, wherein two slightly different frequencies are played into each ear, create a perceived third tone. This can entrain the brain, potentially altering brainwave patterns and states of consciousness.

It's crucial to remember that no single brainwave is "better." Each has a certain role for a certain time. Balance is key, and neurotransmitters play a pivotal role in regulating this balance.


Lee EJ, Bhattacharya J, Sohn C, Verres R. Monochord sounds and progressive muscle relaxation reduce anxiety and improve relaxation during chemotherapy: a pilot EEG study. Complement Ther Med. 2012 Dec;20(6):409-16. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2012.07.002. Epub 2012 Aug 23. PMID: 23131371.

Li, Y., Kang, C., Wei, Z. et al. Beta oscillations in major depression – signalling a new cortical circuit for central executive function. Sci Rep 7, 18021 (2017).

Kučikienė, D., & Praninskienė, R. (2018). The impact of music on the bioelectrical oscillations of the brain. Acta medica Lituanica, 25(2), 101–106.


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