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Medicinal Music

Jim Gates

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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.


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Darlene Meredith

    From Bow, NH, 12/23/2010

    I would like to know more about how the music is created. Do you use a synthesizer and merely type in the intervals of sound? What software do you use for the "black box" and what do you use for the music aspect? I use Logic, now made by Apple. Thank you

    By Kathy Mack

    From Sammamish, WA, 03/11/2009

    Information please

    By L. Miller

    From NC, 08/31/2008

    Clearly there is a serious need for this treatment. What will it take for this and other "creative" treatments to be acknowledged as valuable and legitimate by insurance companies?

    By Catherine Rand

    From Cincinnati, OH, 08/14/2008

    As a psycholgist and musician, I find this type of sleep therapy quite intriguing. I am interested in learning whether BMT has been used in cases of narcolepsy, a disorder causing excessive sleepiness due to inability to transition into deep sleep?

    By Jim Gates

    From St. Paul, MN, 08/08/2008

    I was the reporter of the Brain Music Therapy story and there have been several inquiries about the treatment. At this time there are less than 20 in the United States who are licensed to prescribe the therapy, however there are plans to expand access to the therapy. To get more information about the therapy you should contact Dr. Galina Mindlin: info@brainmusictreatment.com
    Her office number is (212) 581-0821

    A complete list of doctors can be found at: http://www.brainmusictreatment.com/page_4.html

    As I mentioned in the story, the cost of treatment is currently $550 and is not covered by insurance, including Medicare.

    Jim Gates

    By Tori Bryce

    From Portland, OR, 08/07/2008

    I've had trouble staying asleep more than 2-3 hrs at a time for almost 20 yrs. and never seem to enter deep sleep. I'd be interested in learning more abt. BMT. Are there any clinical trials coming up that I can volunteer for? I'd like to know also if it's similar to the "binaural" stuff found online (which don't work for me). Also, is a person's brain waves static? How can one BMT match a person's ever changing brain activity.

    By Jill O'Truk

    From belleville, IL, 08/07/2008

    Has any work been completed with children who have autism? I am a special education teacher and many of my autistic students have great difficulty with sleeping.

    By K Haight

    From Charlotte, NC, 08/06/2008

    Would like info on places in or near Charlotte, N.C. where people can go for brain music therapy. Thanks.

    By jenni packwood

    From Blaine, WA, 08/04/2008

    I would love more information, how do I start the process of getting my own personal brain music therapy, thank you jenni

    By roberta churchill


    I am most interested but would appreciate more information about costs. Does Medicare cover any of this?

    By Lori Carson

    From Minneapolis, MN, 08/04/2008

    I too would like more information on where this can be done in the Twin Cities. Thanks.

    By jo mitchell

    From minneapolis, MN, 08/03/2008

    Please e-mail me further info on who I could contact locallyto obtain this product. Thank you.

    By Mary Prentice

    From Las Cruces, NM, 08/03/2008

    Has any work been done with idiopathic hypersomnia and brain music? I often need two naps a day, and am usually feeling some degree of sleep pressure. I have wondered if perhaps my night sleep isn't deep enough and that contributes to the daytime sleep pressure. In NM who would I contact to explore the idea of BM and too much daytime sleep?


    By paula lerner

    From woodlands hill, CA, 08/02/2008

    i am in the exact same position as ms. stillerman, only a little further down the road. my normal sleep has not returned, and with the deprivation and inabilitity to focus, i am easily disracted and my memory is terrible. everything seems to be snowballing into a very difficult life. the chemo drugs seem to make it worse. i cannot tell you how appreciative i would be if you could recommend an appropriate doctor, who can send the information needed to n.y.

    By Kate Beiting

    From Omaha, NE, 08/02/2008

    Where in Omaha Nebraska is BMT being done--and then sent on to New York for the music-- fascinating, and makes sense!

    By Bernadette Richardson

    From Modesto, CA, 08/02/2008

    My 21 year old daughter has trouble sleeping. I would like more information to help her so she doesn't have to use sleeping pills.

    By etta brown

    From MD, 08/02/2008

    please send information on where to buy the music,I have trouble with anxiety and sleeping.

    By dolores delgiorgio

    From tucson, AZ, 08/02/2008

    I need help with my sleep and anxiety. Please email me with more information. Thanks

    By dolores delgiorgio

    From tucson, AZ, 08/02/2008

    I need help with my sleep and anxiety. Please email me with more information. Thanks

    By Elinore Larson

    From Las Vegas, NV, 08/02/2008

    Have sleep aphnea and oxygen generator in bedroom; this and family problems and pending remodeling keep me awake for hours before drifting off, only to wake early in the AM every morning. Please send me more info regarding this treatment. Thank you

    By Lee Pieterse

    From San Diego, CA, 08/02/2008

    I have heart problems and believe my lack of sleep is one of the causes. Please e-mail me more info. re. BMT.
    Thanks, LP

    By BJ Wiseman

    From Kill devil Hills, NC, 08/02/2008

    Same as Jack, except I am interested for a friend. please let me know how i go about getting a disc for him?

    By Dan Peterson

    From NE, 08/02/2008

    I too would like to find out how I can order this!

    By Jack Tolomei

    From CA, 08/02/2008

    I need help with my sleeping. Loved this article. How do I purchase this
    Brain Music Therapy? Please email me
    back more info on BMT. Thanks Jack, Tolomei

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