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Health & Wellness

How ASMR Can Help with Sleep

ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is characterized by the powerful tingling sensation that people experience in their head when they feel certain types of touch or hear/watch certain things. ASMR starts in the back of the head and can spread to the lower limbs. Many people who experience ASMR also find that it helps them to relax and fall asleep quite quickly.

ASMR is not new, but it was only given a name relatively recently. The phenomenon was titled in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, who is now heavily involved with ASMR University. Allen was a part of a large online discussion of the phenomenon on a website called Steady Health, and she then came up with the name and created a Facebook group devoted to the phenomenon in 2010. 1

Since then, ASMR has attracted a lot of attention online, with people using it for varying purposes, including helping to soothe anxiety and combating insomnia.

woman with headphones How ASMR Works

ASMR is not something that everyone can experience. Studies show that the people who can experience ASMR are unusually receptive to certain, highly specific, types of stimuli. 2 Researchers are not completely clear on how ASMR works, exactly, but it is thought that it operates on a similar principle to frisson (where a person's hair stands on end when they hear certain kinds of music), although there are some differences between the two phenomenon. 3 ASMR lasts longer, and offers a more 'wave-like' feeling, as well as a feeling of relaxation and contentment. It is that relaxing effect that makes ASMR so useful for sleep.

ASMR and Insomnia

So far, there is not a lot of evidence to show that ASMR videos actually help people who are suffering from insomnia. At least not peer-reviewed studies. With that said, there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence, and there is also clear evidence to show that ASMR helps with relaxation and helps to reduce anxiety. There is also a lot of research supporting the idea that if you are relaxed and less anxious, you will sleep better.

One study conducted in 2015 looked at 245 males and 222 females, as well as 8 people who did not want to categorize their gender. The participants were asked questions about their ASMR experiences and about what they used ASMR for and how it helped them. It was found that 98% of the participants sought out ASMR for relaxation, and that 82 percent said that ASMR helped them to sleep. A total of 81% said that they preferred to use ASMR before they went to sleep on a night time. 4

woman laying on couch ASMR and Mental Health

ASMR can help people to sleep by temporarily making you feel good. They create a rush of relaxation and positive feelings, and this can help people to sleep if they are stressed out. The effect is so powerful for some people, including insomniacs, that they avoid ASMR triggers when they need to stay awake because it can make them doze off too easily.

The problem, for the moment, is that these reports are mostly anecdotal, and it's not clear whether ASMR can be harnessed on a broader scale. When we have an ASMR experience, the body produces dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. This helps to reduce anxiety, and it creates a feeling of comfort that makes it easier to fall asleep. Some researchers believe that ASMR comes from the bonding experience that parents have with children (and that occurs in primates too). We hug children, and make soothing noises, stroke their heads and kiss them to comfort them when they are scared or crying. This helps to reduce the stress they feel, and it is thought that some adults can 'relax' in a similar way because they still respond to that stimulus.

Researchers have used functional MRI technology to study the brains of people who respond to ASMR content, and have found that there is a measurable difference in the brain activity of people who are having ASMR experiences. 5 The people who respond to ASMR have a blending of different 'resting-state' networks that does not occur in people who are less susceptible to ASMR experiences. Essentially, their brains are 'wired differently', and this makes them able to have that experience which puts them into a calm and positive mental state, and therefore allows them to fall asleep.

Unfortunately, that's all that researchers really know right now. The ASMR research project is collecting information about people who can experience ASMR in the hopes of furthering our collective understanding of the topic, but since the phenomenon is still relatively new and is only just entering the mainstream consciousness, there is still a lot of data to be gathered. 6

Using ASMR to Improve Sleep

If you want to use ASMR to help yourself to fall asleep , then you will need to set up the right environment first. ASMR videos are best enjoyed in a very quiet environment. If you cannot make your bedroom a completely quiet space then you may want to invest in some noise canceling headphones, or, even better, some 'sleep headphones' that are noise canceling and also more comfortable to wear. Sleep headphones are more of a headband with the headphones built in, so they will not come loose or tangle up while you are asleep.

You should also try to get everything else comfortable. Use black-out curtains so that it is nice and dark, and make sure that the temperature is appropriate; not too warm and not too cold. This will help you to doze off more easily.

Find a video that is long enough to allow you to set it off and watch until you doze off. Pick one that has a consistent level of sound. Most ASMR videos these days are well made, and are at a similar level all the way through. If you find talking distracting, look for a video that says 'no talking' in the description so that you don't find yourself on the verge of dozing off, only to be jolted awake by a human voice. You want to make sure that there are no sudden volume changes either because these can disrupt and impair the experience.

ASMR triggers are different for different people, and what works for one person may actually produce an unpleasant feeling for another. Over time you should be able to find something that will work well for you, and you will learn what content creators you trust. If you have been falling asleep successfully to white noise in the past, then you may still want to try ASMR because many people find that ASMR videos are even more effective.

head massager tool If ASMR doesn't work for you, then consider trying head massaging tools. These can, if used judiciously, offer a part of the experience of ASMR, although not the insomnia-curing elements. Head massagers can provide some of the relaxing, head-tingling elements of an ASMR experience, but there is more to full ASMR than just 'head tingles', and while a good head massage might leave you feeling more relaxed, and therefore better able to sleep, it might not quite be enough to get you to completely doze off.

Photo credits: Stokkete/, RomanSamborskyi/, fizkes/, WhiteSpaceUkraine/

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