What Is ASMR—And Is It the Secret to Better Sleep?

Sleep is simply fundamental. However, many of us do not get enough. An estimated one-third of people in Europe suffer from sleep problems, especially insomnia. A racing mind and bodily discomfort can all play a role in preventing one from getting the right amount of sleep.

You may be one of those who just can’t fall asleep. Maybe you’ve tried everything from melatonin to chamomile tea before bed. You may feel at your wits’ end because nothing seems to help.

So many people across the world share this problem that a community on the internet (namely YouTube) has emerged to share a technique dedicated to helping those who struggle to fall and stay asleep. This phenomenon is called ASMR, which stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response.” These four words are broken down and explained as such:

Autonomous – spontaneous, self-governing, with or without control
Sensory – pertaining to the senses or sensation
Meridian – signifying a peak, climax, or point of highest development
Response – referring to an experience triggered by something external or internal

This is a relatively new trend in sleep aid, only about a decade old. The science behind it for the most part anecdotal and pulled from “…personal commentary and intimate disclosure of subjective experiences” shared throughout the internet by millions of people.

ASMR “is an experience characterized by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine.” It often can bring the listener positive feelings, relaxation, and comfort. It often draws upon feelings experienced as children that could have brought comfort or “tingles,” such as the sound of a teacher slowly turning the page in a textbook or gentle tapping on a hollow box.

While not everyone who listens to these videos may experience ASMR (or may find the concept off-putting), it can still be helpful to calm one’s mind. Content creators use several methods to bring the viewer in to the video to help create a feeling of relaxation. Gentle hand motions, whispering, deliberate actions, or specific sounds are just a few of the many aspects that can be used in an ASMR video.

ASMR is best experienced in a cool, dark room while seated comfortably or laying down. Every “ASMRtist,” as the content creators into, strongly recommend headphones (they don’t have to be top of the line, so don’t worry!). The important thing is to be comfortable so you can relax as easily as possible.

There are other benefits to watching or listening to ASMR videos. There are videos that are dedicated to guided meditation, not just sleep. You can listen while studying or just trying to unwind. The goal of ASMRtists isn’t just to help people sleep, but also to create positive feelings about oneself so that these can be carried on in daily life.

If the sound of someone whispering in your ear isn’t for you, consider listening to a genre of videos called “binaural beats.” These don’t strive to give you tingles or have anyone interacting in the video at all. They are a frequency of tones that relate to different states of awareness (delta in deep sleep, thera in lighter stages, and alpha when a person is relaxed but eyes are closed). “A repetitive sound at the frequency of a certain brainwave band could theoretically cause the brain waves to be entrained to that frequency and thus help induce the state associated with that brainwave band.” While there is no one shoe fits all situation for sufferers of insomnia and other sleep problems, ASMR and binaural beats are alternatives for those trying to find something to make sleep possible.

So, tuck in, take a couple deep breaths, and let yourself take a listen.