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ASMR: Insomnia Cure or Just My Dirty Little Secret?

Updated on November 4, 2017
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Ever since I was a child, getting to sleep has always been a problem. Two years ago, I discovered ASMR videos.

My ASMR Story

I first experienced weird tingles when I was a child. Our teacher was reading us a story about a witch’s cat, and I was transfixed. My neck and shoulders tingled and glowed, and it felt like love. When the story ended, it was as though clouds had passed over the sun, and the lovely feeling gradually went away. I had no idea that not everyone felt like this, and I wondered why it didn’t happen every time a teacher read a story. Subsequently, it occurred again at the hairdressers when having my hair cut, and, inexplicably, even when watching my grandmother having her hair done.

As I grew up, it only happened occasionally—once while singing Christmas carols in the school choir, in a lecture at college, and, most often, at the hairdressers. I kind of forgot about it as it was a rare occurrence, and I usually connected it with the pleasure of having my hair washed.

Then, a couple of years ago, I was watching a friend demonstrate her art techniques on her YouTube channel. There was something about the tone of her voice that set me off. I happened to mention it to my eldest son and he said, “Oh, that’s ASMR—there’s tons of it on YouTube.”

Intrigued, I started searching, and he was right, there are millions of ASMR YouTube videos. I watched one or two with great curiosity, and I was hooked. Although, I only experienced the tingly feeling a couple of times and not very intensely. However, what I did discover was a whole new way to cure the insomnia I’ve suffered with for years. This unexpected benefit far outweighed my slight disappointment at not being ASMR’d like a crazy tingling thing.

Two years on and now I can’t get to sleep without my YouTube fix. I pop on my headphones, find a video, and within minutes I’m in the land of nod. I usually wake up at the end of the video—just enough to remove my headphones and stow my tablet. I’m soon back to sleep again.

Thanks to these soothing videos, my sleeping patterns have improved dramatically. I do sometimes have the odd sleepless night, but it’s nothing like it used to be when I would go for a week without sleeping more than two or three hours a night.

I haven’t told anyone about this. Why? Not sure. It’s a strange thing, isn't it? To want—no NEED—someone to whisper in my ears, or tap on a cardboard box in order to get to sleep. So it is both my insomnia cure and my dirty little secret.

What Is ASMR?

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is a sensation that causes you to feel a warm glow, or tingles in your head, neck, and back. It can spread farther, and I used to feel it under my ribs as a slight tickling. It’s relaxing and pleasant and is probably what keeps hairdressers and masseuses in business.

How Do You Get It?

It varies from person to person. It may be like me, having a story read by someone with a pleasant voice. It might be watching someone carry out a mesmerizing activity. It could be having hands-on attention or it could be triggered by certain sounds.

ASMR For Sleep

Just because you don’t feel the tingles, that doesn’t mean it can’t help you. The sound of wooden blocks being gently tapped or rubbed together through my headphones will send me to sleep within minutes. A YouTube artist performing an aural role play softly has the same effect.

Watching one of these relaxing videos helps me to fall asleep sleep quickly, and I sleep more deeply. I'm convinced I'm refreshed and alert in the mornings because of it.

The Science of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response

There are several studies into the science of this phenomenon; one is “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state” by EL Barrett and NJ Davis. This study attempts to connect the tingly feeling with the timeless feeling we get when focused on a task that we find enjoyable. I have experienced both, and I can tell you they are not the same. The study found that participants reported feeling as though they had experienced deep meditation, relaxation, an easing of depression, and increased well-being. Some reported temporary relief from chronic pain.

Although it has not been proved, it’s highly likely that ASMR stimulates the release of the feel-good hormones serotonin, oxytocin and/or dopamine in the brain.

The study’s authors conclude with:

Given the reported benefits of ASMR in improving mood and pain symptoms, we suggest that ASMR warrants further investigation as a potential therapeutic measure similar to that of meditation and mindfulness.

There is a lot more information on the research currently being undertaken at The ASMR University, where Dr. Craig Richard has collected a vast repository of resources.

Jellybean Green: Muscle Relaxant Experiment

How to Get Started

To be completely honest, if you've never watched or listened to an ASMR video before, you are going to find it slightly weird, even creepy. I recommend you try a few different types to find out what works for you. Here are some suggestions of what to search for on YouTube:

  • Ear-to-ear whispering: this is when the artist uses binaural microphones to whisper in alternate ears. Some even blow gently into their microphones which actually feels like light air currents in your own ears. YouTube, Heather Feather is particularly good at this.
  • Binaural sounds: tapping, scratching, soapsuds and crinkling plastic are examples of this type of stimulus. Deep Ocean of Sounds is an ASMR artist whom you never see, but who creates wonderful audio to send you to sleep.
  • Repetitive Activity: mundane activities like folding towels, ironing, smoothing fabrics, folding laundry, turning book pages. Gentle Whispering has a towel folding video with almost 2.5 million views. One YouTube commenter says, “I basically lie to my husband every day by telling him I listen to music in bed to go to sleep because telling him I listen to a Russian lady folding towels each night would probably weird him out.”
  • Virtual Personal Attention Role-play: Artists are becoming more and more creative in their attempts to make you feel as though you are right there in the room with them. From hair shampooing to shoulder massage; from Reiki treatments to having your make-up done, from manicures to getting your spacesuit fixed (Heather Feather). Personal attention role-play also includes a whole slew of ‘medical’ procedures, such as ear cleaning (yes, really), cranial nerve examination, sight tests, etc. One of my favorite ‘practitioners’ is Jellybean Green. Her voice is hypnotic. She has a way of lengthening the end of her words so they tail off ever so gently.

Heather Feather Repairs Your Spacesuit

How to Listen

You don’t need headphones or ear buds but they do make the experience much more immersive. Make sure you are in a comfortable position and unlikely to be interrupted. There’s nothing worse than being in a state of gentle euphoria and having your sister call you, or your dog bark. Select a likely-looking video and away you go.

ASMR Artists Really Are Artists

It looks like an easy way to make YouTube videos and gain a large audience, and when it began, it probably was. However, as ASMR becomes more popular, the skills of the artists are increasing accordingly. Not only that, they use sophisticated equipment to stay ahead of the game.

Everything is thought out: the backdrop, the condition of hands and nails, the quality of the voice. Editing used to be minimal, or quite obvious and crude. Nowadays, it is an art form in itself.

Viewers are very discerning and will flock to a new and accomplished artist, but in the same way, they will abandon one who is not releasing new material or who changes their style radically.

Would you consider watching ASMR videos to help you get to sleep?

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If You Hate ASMR: Misophonia

Some sounds set people on edge and they experience the opposite to ASMR, commonly known as ‘misophonia’. Occasionally, certain videos leave me cold. I really hate videos of people eating, and making chewing sounds. I just don’t want to have that mental picture of what is happening inside someone’s mouth as they eat and swallow.

Misophonia is most easily recognized when you think of fingernails scraping on a chalkboard. Or the sound of a dentist’s drill. It sets your teeth on edge and makes you feel horrible. Some people have reported they experience misophonia with some types of ASMR sounds, but that others are acceptable and relaxing.

Do you experience ASMR?

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Survey

If you experience ASMR, or not sure if you do or not, take this survey to help further research into the phenomenon.

© 2017 Bev

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