Medicinal MusicAUGUST 2, 2008
- BMT CD
- (Jim Gates)
- View the Slideshow
More From Jim Gates
It's the weekend, and if you're like most people, you may find yourself racing through a mental checklist of all your errands: Grocery lists, yard work, taking the kids to soccer. Weekends can be stressful, and there's nothing like stress and anxiety to ruin a good night's sleep. Audrey Stillerman had trouble sleeping until she started listening to her own mind. Literally. Stillerman has the ultimate personal soundtrack, a musical representation of the electrical activity in her head.
"It's very slow, with kind of a lot of bass clef," Stillerman says, popping a CD into her Walkman. It's sort of a New Age-y synthesized piano.
"Someone was listening to it and said, 'Do you get bored?' I don't even listen to it that much. It's just sort of there, in my ear. It's not like you listen to it like you'd listen to a song or a piece of music, so I don't find it boring."
Stillerman was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in January. The rounds of chemotherapy and a daily barrage of meds completely threw off her circadian rhythm. Sleeping through the night became impossible. She was exhausted and overwhelmed during the day. Then Stillerman started Brain Music Therapy, or BMT and began sleeping better than she ever has in her life.
"I've had a couple of experiences where I woke up the next day and I literally didn't know what day it was or where I was," she says, "not in a bad way; I just had been so deeply asleep, I was a little disoriented when I woke up."
Chicago Internist Dr. David Moore prescribed BMT for Stillerman. "Brain Music Therapy is used to help people primarily with insomnia, and that is how it was developed," he says. "What the music does is it increases the amount of alpha rhythm that you have. And [that helps] the progression downward towards sleep."
BMT, helps electrical activity in the brain transition from beta waves to alpha waves. We produce the more active beta waves when we are alert and thinking. Alpha waves occur when our brains are idling, like when daydreaming. From alpha, the brain can downshift to theta waves, which we experience during REM sleep. After Theta, we move on to delta waves, which is akin to a state of deep, dreamless slumber.
Why not just break out the easy listening and fall asleep to something like Yanni? Dr. Moore admits that many people do use relaxing music to help them fall asleep. "If Yanni puts you to sleep, do it," he says with a laughing admission that he loves Yanni, "[BMT] is a way of engineering the music specifically for you, if you had a sleep disorder that wasn't amenable to Yanni."
The first step to engineering a personal composition is to make a recording of a patient's brainwaves. Dr. Moore had Audrey Stillerman come into his office for an EEG, in which he attached several electrodes to her scalp and measured the electrical activity in her brain for about 15 minutes. Dr. Moore then e-mailed Audrey's reading to another doctor in New York, who ran it through a computer. "That's the black box. It's a computer analysis of the mathematics of the EEG," Dr. Moore explains.
He calls it the black box because this analysis requires the use of a proprietary software that belongs to only one person in the United States, Golina Mindlin, a neuropsychologist at Columbia University.
Dr. Mindlin laughs at the "black box" reference. "This is the digital program," she explains in a Russian accent. "It's a quite complex algorithm that allows us to translate brain frequencies into a musical map."
From that musical map a nine-minute composition of "healing rhythms" was created just for Stillerman. Brain music. Dr. Mindlin burned a CD and sent it to Audrey, who listens to it before bedtime.
Dr. Mindlin brought Brain Music Therapy over from Russia, where it was developed at the Moscow Medical Academy in 1991. She says that music is a very efficient way to reach inside our minds and affect our brainwaves.
"We all have experiences where music sticks in our brain and causes us to have emotional connection," Dr. Mindlin says. "But these are the frequencies that are yours, that belong to you. So you are your own symphony."
It's an expensive symphony that costs $550, and isn't covered by insurance. Approximately 2,000 patients have been prescribed BMT. A recent study showed BMT achieving similar results to that of the sleep aid Ambien, minus the side effects. A full night's sleep courtesy of BMT has enabled patients to better deal with other ailments like depression, addiction, ADD and in Stillerman's case, the anxiety of living with cancer.
"The nights I've used it, the next day I feel much better able to cope with whatever comes my way," she says. "The stresses at home and work. I'm able to roll with whatever comes along."
Stillerman recently completed her eighth and final round of chemo and hopes to eventually work full time. She plans to keep listening to her CD and enjoy the deep sleep she gets from her brain music.