What Is ASMR, and Can It Really Help You Sleep Better?
For years, I struggled with insomnia. I’d lay awake, frustrated and exhausted, but unable to turn off my brain due to high stress, anxiety, and… okay, maybe a constant stream of Friends reruns. I’d try melatonin supplements or sleep aids, but that just left me feeling groggy in the morning and I didn’t like being dependent on pills. I tried cutting out caffeine, exercising more, reading before bed — nothing worked.
I was desperate to find a better solution, when a friend told me I should try watching ASMR videos on YouTube. I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t care. I’d do anything to be able to get a full eight hours of sleep! So I opened my laptop, typed “ASMR Sleep” into the search box, and was shocked to see millions of videos of people talking and making sounds into strategically placed microphones.
At first I thought it was a bit creepy, to be honest. What in the heck were these people doing?! But after only 10 minutes, I was out like a light! It was incredible, and I couldn’t believe it. Now, I watch ASMR videos every single night before bed. I’m hooked.
Here’s a dive into what ASMR is, how it works, and why it might be the sleep solution you’re looking for.
What Is ASMR?
ASMR stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response,” and might be something you or someone you know experiences. Remember that sleepy feeling you’d get from listening to Bob Ross lead you through a painting? Or have you ever felt a calming sensation from the sound of rain tapping on your roof? If you have, you could have been experiencing ASMR.
ASMR can cause relaxation, comfort, sleepiness, or a blissful feeling, but many people also experience a tingly sensation in their spine, head, and throughout their entire body. In order to induce relaxation, people who create all these ASMR videos — “ASMRtists,” as they call themselves — perform common ASMR triggers to the camera as if they are speaking directly to the viewer.
What Are ASMR Triggers?
Some common ASMR triggers include tapping, scratching, the sound of crinkly bags, watching someone perform a simple task, light touches like hair brushing and massage, and soft, soothing voices. People can enhance their ASMR triggers by imagining a relaxing scenario, by physical touch, or by audiovisual sensation.
What Are the Benefits of ASMR?
On a high level, ASMR can help you relax. A study from the University of Sheffield found that those who experience ASMR (not everyone does or can) while watching ASMR videos showed significant reductions in their heart rates, increase in positive emotions like relaxation, and feelings of social connection. Another experiment in the same study also found “increased levels of excitement and calmness, and decreased levels of stress and sadness.”
In yet another study, 80 percent of participants reported a beneficial effect on mood, suggesting that ASMR can not only help with relaxation, but it may also help individuals who suffer from sleep issues or insomnia to fall asleep, which can have profound effects on better mood and focus.
Why Does ASMR Help You Get Better Sleep?
One of the main reasons people have trouble sleeping is due to a “fight or flight, high alert” state, which makes your body assume it is in danger of a threat, explains Cassandra Carlopio, sleep and meditation expert, licensed psychologist, and collaborative partner at The Breathe Institute. This makes it more difficult to fall and stay asleep since your body will want to be ready to tend to said threat.
How do you combat that? Meditation is one way. “It can help calm the body and nervous system from ‘fight or flight’ into ‘rest and digest’ state, where the body feels safe enough to drift into a deep and restful sleep,” Carlopio says. For people who experience ASMR, triggers can help them relax their body and help them transition into that meditative, rest and digest state.
Carlopio also notes that ASMR videos can provide positive distraction for anxiety. “Bedtime thoughts can keep someone awake at night, so if ASMR gives the listener something to focus on, that isn’t their thoughts, that could also help someone relax and drift off to sleep.”
Why Doesn’t Everybody Experience ASMR?
Researchers are still working to fully understand why only some people experience ASMR. A study by Stephen Smith and Beverley Fredborg from the University of Winnipeg found that people who experience ASMR reported high scores of neuroticism (emotionally reactive, anxious, and vulnerable to stress), and an openness to new experiences (desire to seek out intense experiences and prefer variety over consistency). They also found that personality traits like flexibility, spontaneity, and being reserved and reflective were more common in ASMR experiencers versus non-ASMR experiencers.
Another study found that a propensity for fantasizing was also telling in who is more likely to experience ASMR. This same study also concluded that neuroticism was not a determining factor, so it is clear more research needs to be done.
Who Makes ASMR Videos, and Why Do They Do It?
So, who are the people actually creating ASMR? If you scroll through ASMR channels on YouTube, you’ll find people from all over the world and from all walks of life, but who appear to have one definitive commonality: they want to help people relax.
British-born Lucy, or “Creative Calm ASMR” on YouTube, says she became an ASMRtist through her struggles with anxiety, realizing she could not only help herself, but help others who were also struggling. “I made them initially as an outlet as I was suffering from anxiety and depression after some family losses. It really helped me to create content and also connect with others who maybe felt the same.”
Lucy, who boasts over 183,000 subscribers and over 28 million total views, also acknowledges the power of ASMR for people with sleep issues. She cites her soft spoken or whisper videos in a “relaxing, soothing voice” as “hugely helpful for sleep.”
Where Can I Listen to ASMR?
You can find ASMR videos on YouTube by searching phrases like “ASMR Relaxation” and “ASMR for Insomnia.” Or, if you prefer just listening without video, you can also find ASMR sounds on Spotify playlists like this one. There are literally millions of options out there on the Internet, so take some time to peruse what’s out there to find your favorite triggers!