Can ASMR Help Your Sleep?

Updated: December 12, 2019

By: Mary Sweeney RN, BSN, CEN, ONN-CG

A New Method To Help You Sleep

While there are always tried and true methods of combating insomnia and getting the perfect night’s sleep, researchers are constantly coming up with new ways for you to get your rest. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a relatively new method that is not well-understood but is an interesting option. Let’s talk abouttrouble sleeping, ASMR and how it can help you sleep.

Why Can’t I Sleep?

Whether you have a chronic sleep issue or if it’s just been a few nights, not being able to sleep can be the most frustrating thing in the world. Here are four common causes of sleep disturbances:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea: This, sometimes called OSA, is a condition in which a person may go for a period of several seconds without breathing while sleeping. When this happens, the brain sends a message to the body to wake up and breathe, which causes many interruptions in sleep throughout the course of a night. Side effects of OSA include headache, fatigue, and trouble concentrating. OSA is diagnosed by a medical professional and has a couple of different treatment options:
    • Surgery to remove tonsils/adenoids
    • Use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask
  • Insomnia: Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep, even when the environment and conditions are just right. Causes of insomnia can be short-term causes like stress or an illness, while longer term causes of insomnia can be things like shift work, unhealthy sleep patterns or habits, medications, or other chronic conditions.
  • Restless leg syndrome: Restless leg syndrome is a condition in which you experience uncomfortable sensations in your legs that is relieved by moving them. The sensations often pop up at night and can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Circadian rhythm disorder: Your body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, is what helps us determine when it’s time to go to sleep and when to wake up. Your body produces a hormone called melatonin that helps you feel tired, and the production of melatonin increases as it gets darker outside. If you work shifts or have irregular sleep patterns, your production of melatonin may not be as regular as other people’s, thus making it more difficult to fall and stay asleep.

Tips for Better Sleep

Before we talk about ASMR, let’s look at a few tips for a more plentiful night’s sleep:

Turn off the screens. This cannot be stressed enough! Screens on electronic devices emit a certain amount of blue light that can interfere with melatonin production and can therefore cause difficulty falling and staying asleep. Turn the screens off 30 minutes to an hour before bed and consider keeping them in a different room so you’re not tempted to look at them.

Take a warm bath. A warm bath about an hour before you go to bed can help you clear your mind and relax your muscles. Consider trying a bubble bath with some lavender essential oils to encourage relaxation.

Limit fluid intake before bed. If possible, have your last sip of liquid 30 minutes to an hour before going to bed – this will cut down on nighttime trips to the bathroom.

Exercise during the day. If you exercise within a few hours of going to bed, you may have a harder time falling asleep. After a workout, your heart rate and metabolism stay elevated for several hours, so try to work out in the morning or in the middle of the day so it doesn’t affect your sleep quality.

Avoid caffeine. That cup of coffee that you’re craving at 4 in the afternoon? It may be the thing that keeps you up all night. The effects of caffeine can last for hours after you consume it, so try to have your last cup of joe at least six hours before you go to bed. If you really need that hot drink, try decaffeinated coffee or tea.

Have a sleep routine. Getting yourself into a nighttime routine can help your body adjust and fall asleep easier. Set alarms for both bedtime and waking up and stick to those times even on the weekends. “Sleeping in” doesn’t benefit you in any way and may actually make you feel more tired. Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day and you’ll feel the difference in no time!

Talk to your doctor about medication. There are many over the counter and prescription medications that can help you fall asleep. Remember, these medications are a short term solution, and should not be used to treat a sleep issue long term. Talk to your doctor to see if you have an underlying condition that may be affecting your sleep quality.

Consider meditation/ASMR. It can be hard to turn off your brain at the end of the day, especially when you’re stressed. Meditation can be a great way to refocus and calm yourself after a stressful event or day. Consider using a meditation app to guide you through a meditation session. If meditation doesn’t work or if you want to try something new, ASMR may be right for you. See the next sections for the full story on ASMR!

What is ASMR?

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR, is a reaction that some people have to an auditory or visual stimulus that creates a pleasurable response in the brain. Sometimes called “brain tingles,” ASMR causes a feeling like a pleasurable tingling, starting at the base of the head and traveling down the body. The tingling sensation causes a person to feel relaxed and euphoric and induces a state of relaxation that helps promote good sleep. ASMR sensations have been compared to musical frisson, which are the “shivers” that some people experience when they are listening to a particular song that resonates with them. Recent research has shown that people who listen to sounds that stimulate ASMR have experienced dramatically lower levels of stress and a lower heart rate than those who fall asleep without it.

How does ASMR work?

Scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes you to experience these pleasurable feelings while listening or watching an ASMR video. ASMR videos are all over the internet – 11 million of them, to be exact. But what are they videos of? The response to ASMR usually comes from repetitive, comforting sounds such as:

  • Brushing
  • Spraying
  • Folding clothes
  • Turning pages of a book
  • Tapping against a surface, especially nails on a hard surface
  • Whispering or blowing softly into a microphone
  • Loud crunching of food

Often, these videos will be of a person with a microphone that is whispering positive phrases while doing these everyday tasks and actions. The videos are sometimes an hour or longer and are designed for you to listen to or watch while you are drifting off to sleep.

What does ASMR feel like?

ASMR can feel different for each person, and not everyone experiences it in the same way. Generally, it’s reported to feel like a tingling sensation that starts in the head and neck, spreading slowly through the rest of the body. In addition to the tingling, ASMR has been associated with feelings of great pleasure, relaxation and calm. During an ASMR session, you may experience a lower heart rate and slower breathing rate, similar to what you might experience if you were meditating.

What causes ASMR?

Scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes the feelings that accompany the sights and sounds that trigger ASMR, but there have been a few studies in the last couple of years that have attempted to explain it. A study in 2015 showed that many people who are able to experience ASMR have their first experience as children – this may point to childhood memories of sights and sounds as a trigger for ASMR as adults. ASMR responses can be elicited by sights, sounds, or even light, gentle touches.

Who can experience ASMR?

Because ASMR isn’t well-understood or explained by science, it’s hard to tell who can experience the “brain tingles.” Sleep specialists surmise that ASMR videos give us a way to “switch off” our brains and focus on a mundane sight or sound. Recent research has shown that people experience ASMR in different ways, and triggers are not the same for every person. Some people experience the tingling sensation from light sounds, such as tapping, stirring something, or even spraying a water bottle. Others don’t get the tingling sensation from those same sounds, but rather experience a deep sense of relaxation. Some people respond more to a video that features a person whispering or role-playing. One study reported that 75% of their respondents had a response to whispering.

It’s interesting to note that over time, your brain can become used to a certain stimulus – this means that you may be able to experience ASMR with the same sounds over and over, but it may not work after some time.

How do I try ASMR?

If you, like many people, are intrigued by the idea of ASMR, here are a few ways to try it out! Remember, what works for one person may not work for you, so if you don’t get the tingles on the first try, don’t worry! You may just need to try a different sound or visual to get the feelings.

  • Do a little research online and find a video with sounds that are pleasurable for you. Once you find a video, save it or subscribe to the channel so it’s always easily accessible.
  • Create a relaxing environment that promotes sleep. Turn out the lights, make sure the room is at a comfortable temperature, and wear your most comfortable pajamas.
  • Play the video! If it’s just sounds that you’re looking for, make sure the display is darkened or covered to avoid the blue light emitted from the screen.
  • Relax! This is probably the most important step in getting the full benefit of ASMR. Open your mind and clear your thoughts – try not to think about reacting to the sounds. If it doesn’t happen for you the first time, experiment with different sights and sounds until you find one that works for you.

If you have trouble falling or staying asleep and conventional remedies have failed you, ASMR is a safe alternative option to try.

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