It’s the relaxation phenomenon that’s swept the world, but can ASMR really help you sleep?
Many of us have trouble falling asleep. In fact, the NHS reports that one in three of us suffer from poor sleep, with stress being the primary reason behind our sleep deprivation. And because of this, people are seeking out new ways to improve their sleep health and make it easier to drift off at night. Enter ASMR.
ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, is a popular movement that uses certain sounds and sensations to promote relaxation. It’s used by many different people for many different reasons, but one of it’s most popular uses is as a sleep aid you can listen to in order to promote faster falling asleep.
But what exactly is ASMR, and can it actually help you fall asleep with ease? Let’s take a look.
What is ASMR?
The ASMR experience is often described as a pleasant tingling sensation which is brought about by certain ‘trigger’ sounds. These vary from person to person, but can include whispering voices, crinkling paper, tapping fingernails, turning pages, and the use of soft paint brushes.
Many people aren’t affected by these triggers but those who are report a tingling feeling that starts at the scalp and moves down the neck and spine. This can be pleasant and, crucially, relaxing.
The phenomenon started back in 2007, when an internet user described her experience of ASMR-style tingles on a health forum. The sensation wasn’t named until 2010, and nowadays there are hundreds of thousands of YouTubers and social media users who specialise in posting ASMR content.
Does it work?
Alongside the popularity of ASMR, there has also been controversy. Some doubt whether it is actually real, while some studies have suggested that the rise in ASMR is due to the loneliness epidemic gripping Gen Z.
However, other examples of research show that there can be genuine benefits to ASMR. A study in 2018 recorded the physiological responses of participants as they watched ASMR videos, and the results found a clear difference between those who claimed to experience an ASMR response and those who did not.
The ASMR group experienced a heart rate reduction as well as increased skin conductance. This led researchers to conclude that the ASMR response differed from both typical relaxation and sexual arousal – falling somewhere between the two – but could indeed help people unwind and quiet busy minds.
Researchers at Dartmouth College also explored the limits of ASMR, studying brain activity among those using the phenomenon to relax. The researchers used functional MRI to capture what happens to the brain while watching ASMR videos. They found that, as well as helping us relax, ASMR also triggers parts of the brain associated with reward and emotional arousal.
Getting a good night’s sleep
In short, ASMR might not be for everyone, but it can certainly help some of us take our minds off our stresses and unwind at the end of the day. However, it’s important to make other changes to your bedtime routine in order to give yourself the best chance of a good night’s sleep.
Keep your bedroom cool and dark, and avoid using screens like televisions, computers and smartphones in the run-up to bedtime. Instead, try reading, stretching or meditating before you turn in. It’s also good to avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these can inhibit your sleep quality, and make sure you have bedding, pillows and a mattress that provide comfort and support.