Detailed HIRREM Process
Artwork by Steve Lohman (www.lineartgallery.com)
Every person, and thus every brain, is different, with a unique pattern for most efficient function and performance. In the HIRREM model, trauma, both physical and non-physical, is a key cause of disturbances in brain activity. When faced with trauma or threats, the brain activates survival mechanisms as part of its normal response to stress. This includes activation of brain circuits needed to drive the autonomic nervous system to cause physiological changes in the body to meet the threat, including the sympathetic (fight or flight), or parasympathetic (freeze or withdraw) responses. These responses are designed to help a person survive life’s unexpected events and threats in that moment.
Sometimes, the brain circuits driving autonomic nervous system responses do not shut off following resolution of the trauma or threat. Those same physiological responses that were helpful at the time of the trauma or threat may not be helpful a week, a year, or ten years later, and could ultimately lead to symptoms or even diseases. For example, while in battle a soldier’s brain might have to activate the sympathetic fight or flight responses to survive. Yet, if that same brain pattern, and the accompanying physiological responses, persist when he/she returns to civilian life, it could lead to symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, hypervigilance, poor focus, poor memory, a short fuse, and many other aspects of the constellation of symptoms that embody post-traumatic stress disorder. The same can occur in civilian life when faced with real or perceived threats, extreme tragedies, or natural disasters.
The sympathetic responses are primarily managed by the right side of the brain, particularly the right anterior insular cortex, while parasympathetic is primarily managed on the left (Craig AD, Trends Cogn Sci, 2005). On surface recordings of brain frequencies and amplitudes, activation of the sympathetic nervous system manifests as higher electrical amplitudes in the right temporal region (location T4, as defined by the 10-20 International System for electroencephalography), with parasympathetic in the left temporal region (T3). A persisting dominant state of one or the other can be seen as imbalance in electrical amplitudes in those regions, particularly in the higher frequency ranges (see Case Examples). Imbalances can also occur as a direct result of physical trauma, and may manifest on scalp recordings at various lobes of the brain.
In addition to a left versus right side imbalance, there may also be an imbalance in the distribution or proportionation of amplitudes across frequencies at a given location. It appears that excess amplitudes in specific frequency bands may tend to interfere with efficient functioning at that location, and may interfere with activities like sleep, as suggested by the hyperarousal theory for insomnia (Riemann D, et al., Sleep Med Rev, 2010), or things like executive function, focus (Barry RJ, et al., Clin Neurophysiol, 2003), or clarity (see Case Examples).
The overall premise of HIRREM is that if the brain is allowed to auto-calibrate, moving towards its own unique, balanced state, both side to side, and across frequencies at specific locations, that the symptoms driven by the imbalance, or over activation, might decrease.
High-resolution, relational, resonance-based, electroencephalic mirroring (HIRREM®) is a novel, noninvasive, electroencephalic-based, allostatic (Sterling P, Physiol Behav, 2012) feedback technology that aims to facilitate relaxation and auto-calibration of neural oscillations by using auditory tones to reflect brain frequencies in near real time. Developed by Brain State Technologies, LLC, Scottsdale, AZ, HIRREM does not rely on entraining the brain towards an operator-defined, or population-based normal pattern, does not require active cognitive engagement by the recipient, and does not use operant conditioning (conscious reward-based conditioning). HIRREM uses auditory tones to reflect the brain’s changing pattern of frequency-specific electrical activity back to itself very quickly, nearly in real time. The device identifies the dominant frequency of the recipient’s electroencephalic spectrum in a floating middle range, in a given instant of time. Based on a mathematical algorithm, this dominant frequency is translated to a tone that is played back through earphones. Since the brain frequencies are constantly changing, the recipient hears a series of tones being played back through the earphones. The very high speed of the HIRREM technology (auditory feedback within 12 milliseconds) provides a signal that appears to facilitate auto-calibration towards balance without conscious (cortical) intent. While an exact mechanism of action for HIRREM has yet to be fully established, the operational theory is that resonance between the reflected tones and the brain’s oscillating neural networks allows the brain a chance to either dissipate or accrete neural energy in a subtle, noninvasive way, facilitating the observed auto-calibration towards its own equilibrium.