The Brain and Music

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The Brain under Regional and General Anesthesia: Music’s Effect

July 30th, 2016 · music and the brain

How does the brain under anesthesia act?  And can music still have a positive effect on the brain?  I talk to lots and lots of people daily and many want to understand how music can have a positive impact on someone having surgery.  You’ve heard me say many times, that the brain is the last unexplored frontier.

First we must understand that when you are under general anesthesia, you are not actually asleep, although the doctor may say that he is “putting you to sleep.”  The reality is that the anesthesiologist is putting you into a coma; one from which you can be fairly easily awakened.  If you were actually sleeping, you would definitely wake up when the cutting started!  So what is going on in the brain when the patient is in this induced coma?

I did some research on this interesting and important question, and here’s what I found:  Dr. Ulrica Nilsson is a PhD, certified registered nurse anesthetist, CRNA.  She is an authority on the use of music during surgery, and here is what she said:

Registrations through EEG have shown that music can decrease the bioelectrical activity in the brain from predominant beta waves to alpha and theta waves, which can have consequences for reduction of anxiety, tension and sleeplessness (Shawn 1999). The mechanism of the pain reducing effect of music has been explained by the gate control theory, which suggests that the transmission of potentially painful impulses can be modulated by a “cellular gating mechanism” found in the spinal cord (Melzack 1973, Whipple & Glynn 1992). Alternatively the beneficial effects may be a result of distraction through cognitive coping strategies by competing stimuli that reduce pain perception (Fernandes & Turk 1989). Music can also act as a distracting agent to refocus the attention from negative stimuli causing the stress, to something that is pleasant; it occupies one’s mind with something familiar, soothing and preferred (Siegele 1974, McCaffery 1992, Mok & Wong 2003), allowing people to escape to “their own world”.

Nilsson et al (2001 and 2003b) have shown that patients which have been exposed to soft relaxing music intraoperatively had significantly lower pain scores on the first day of surgery compared with the control group patients. Intraoperative music can also lead to less postoperative fatigue and that patients became mobile earlier i.e. time to sit after surgery, (Nilsson et al 2001).

Because this research is at least 15 years old (although still valid), I refer you to the study that was done on our Surgical Serenity Solutions headphones and music!  The results indicate that patients under general anesthesia still respond to music very positively and have a 20% less perception of pain.  In the scientific world, that is huge.  To read this study go HERE.

To purchase the Surgical Serenity Headphones or download, go HERE.

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Music, the Brain, and Rapture!

June 20th, 2016 · how the brain works, music and the brain

Music, Brain, Rapture

Music and Rapture

Have you ever experienced pure rapture when listening to a piece of music?  Have you listened to a piece of music that sent tingles up and down your spine and made your breathing and heart rate increase?  Have you experienced such emotion that you truly felt you were in an altered state?  Yes, music can do that!  People have experienced cold chills when listening to and participating in music for thousands of years,  and we inquiring minds have wondered why this happens.

With the advances in neuroscience and brain technology, scans of all kinds, and the general rise in interest in neuroscience, we are beginning to know today what takes place in the brain and body of someone who is listening to a piece of music that gives them cold chills up and down their spine, or induces a sense of intense pleasure so that they wish the piece of music would never stop!

Recently a report on a fascinating study came out in the The Guardian.  The study was conducted at Harvard University by a graduate student at the University of Southern California.  In order to get subjects for this study, the researcher, Matthew Sachs, “put out a call” to music lovers in the area asking for volunteers who loved music but either “did” get chills when listening to certain music or definitely “did not” get chills when listening.  Of the over 200 people that responded, Sachs and colleagues at Harvard and Wesleyan University in Connecticut chose 10 each for “did” and “did not.”  These subjects took online personality tests and then came into the lab with their own playlists.  The music ranged widely from Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and Coldplay’s Strawberry Swing toBag Raiders’ Shooting Stars and Blue Devils Drum Corps’s Constantly Risking Absurdity.

According to the authors, “The brains of people who felt the chills had more nerve fibres running from the auditory cortex, needed for basic hearing ability, to two other regions, namely the anterior insular cortex, involved in processing feelings, and the medial prefrontal cortex, which is thought to monitor emotions and assign values to them.”  So, it would seem that we are genetically set up to have these denser fibers in our brains, which lead to the abilility to feel chills or simply to really enjoy the music and perhaps even experience ecstasy or rapture, but without chills.

Would love to hear your comments!

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Music, Brain, and Pain

May 3rd, 2016 · music and the brain

One of the scariest things going on in the world today is all of the addiction to prescription pain-killers.  Nobody wants pain, but pain is a reality for most of us at some point in our lives.  Physicians and scientists around the world are looking for non-addictive ways to treat pain, the the powerful pills that are now out there, are what many people.

Just this past weekend, there was a wonderful story on NBC news about a hospital near New York City that now has a harpist playing in their Emergency Room to calm people down without giving them drugs right away.  Of course we know that music is never going to take the place of drugs for people that are in acute or chronic pain, but it can certainly begin to relax patients in a non-pharmacological way.  The story on NBC was about very compelling and I wanted to share it with you! This hospital fights opiod addiction with music

Educating the public about the power of music in healthcare settings is an ongoing challenge for me, but it is happening.  I think most of us know intuitively that music makes us feel better, but most people just don’t believe that it can actually take the place of medication, or definitely supplement and enhance the power of medicine.

This story on NBC went on to say that the leading cause of accidental death in the US is now overdose of prescription drugs.  Drug manufacturers seems to have limitless advertising budgets and the evening news is always full of advertisements about the newest prescription drugs and the wonders they can perform for you.  I’m sure you’ve also noticed that at the end of the advertisement, the announcer has low-volume warning/disclaimer that he reads so fast that you can barely understand it!

Next time you’re about to take a new prescription med, ask the Dr. if some music/music therapy might help you or decrease the amount of the drug you need!

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Music puts the brain to sleep

April 9th, 2016 · how the brain works, music and the brain

Genie sleepingAlmost every week people bring me their issues with insomnia.  Is it possible that music puts your brain to sleep?  Insomnia is at epidemic levels these days.  I see about 20 therapy patients per week and I’d say that well over half of them suffer from insomnia.  Can music put the brain to sleep?  Well, yes and no!  If you remember what I’ve taught you about rhythmic entrainment, you know that slowing down a steady pulse, can gradually slow down your heart-rate, your breathing, and even your thought activity.  But this must be done slowly and gradually.  That’s why people talk about winding down in the evening.  Whether adults or children, having a bedtime routine is important, especially if you ten to suffer from insomnia.

Many therapists will tell you not to watch the evening news or any violent shows at all in the evening.  if you have serious issues with insomnia.  Probably best to just have quiet conversation, some quiet calming music, a nice warm bath and soft lights until bedtime.  THEN, that’s when you choose the music that will best help you drift off into a gentle, deep slumber.  Many people also like to have environmental sounds such as softly chirping crickets, gentle bird songs, or babbling brooks.  Some people like a combination of soft music and environmental sounds in the background.

It takes some time and experimentation to figure out what music works best for you, but as with so many things in life, having a plan and a routine is best.  In our society with iphones, iPads, and laptops, video games and wide-screen TVs, there are constant distractions.  One of the things that is so difficult for people who are lying in the bed with their eyes open and not sleeping is to resist looking at your phone to see what time it is, or if you have new messages.  If you can resist that, choose some music that you know will slow your mind and body down, and if insomnia is truly affecting your quality of life, then music can definitely be a component of your solution.  Sweet dreams!

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Children, Epilepsy, and Mozart

March 1st, 2016 · how the brain works, music and the brain

A fascinating study has come out on children, epilepsy and Mozart.  Epilepsy is a neurological disorder marked by sudden recurrent episodes of sensory disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions, associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain.  It continues to baffle neuroscientists, brain researchers and parents.  The social consequences are severe because the person tends to isolate from others, fearing that they could have a seizure and embarass themselves.

The study comes from Taiwan and states that:  “Increasing numbers of reports show the beneficial effects of listening to Mozart music in decreasing epileptiform discharges as well as seizure frequency in epileptic children. There has been no effective method to reduce seizure recurrence after the first unprovoked seizure until now. In this study, we investigated the effect of listening to Mozart K.448 in reducing the seizure recurrence rate in children with first unprovoked seizures.”

To read the entire abstract, go to   “Mozart K.448 listening decreased seizure recurrence and epileptiform discharges in children with first unprovoked seizures: a randomized controlled study.”

I think it is so interesting that the Mozart piece they chose is the same Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, that the whole “Mozart Effect” study was based on.  It is a great piece for sure, but who would have thought that this one sonata could have so many beneficial outcomes for humanity!

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