What is ASMR?
1 sheep, 2 sheep, 3 sheep………..475 sheep. Counting sheep not cutting it for you? How about a video of someone tapping a plate. Curious? Read on.
A phenomenon growing in popularity over the last ten years might be just the thing to try. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR, a term coined by Jennifer Allen, involves watching videos to produce a tingling sensation in the head and scalp. Also referenced as brain orgasms and whisper porn, although there is reportedly no sexual arousal associated, ASMR has followers all over the world. Nicknamed tingleheads, this community uses these videos primarily to assist with insomnia and anxiety. Many have a favorite ASMR-artist, there are thousands, and engage with the videos before bed. Artists are predominantly attractive females who speak into bi-lateral microphones and filter through a series of triggers to induce ASMR. The more popular triggers include whispering, crisp sounds, like tapping fingers, slow movement with the hands, and personal attention. Think back to the last time you got a haircut, a facial, or anything with close personal attention from a trusted source. That feeling of calm and relaxation is what ASMR videos posit to create. Sounds lovely, right?
Benefits + Advantages
The benefits of ASMR are user dependent, some individuals cannot experience the tingles, but most report feelings of relaxation and pleasant sensations. Viewers can turn to these videos for help with sleep and possibly relief from depression, chronic pain, and general anxiety. Two small scale studies looked at MRI brain scans, one of individuals viewing ASMR, the other of those who self-reported experiencing ASMR, and found evidence that brains of ASMR experiencers are firing a bit differently, and may be more open to sensory information. They also scored higher in neuroticism, which is associated with depression. Regardless of brain connectivity and personality type, ASMR is triggering a felt experience of being loved, akin to the mother-child bond in early childhood. It is reminiscent of close, personal attention that individuals may or may not have received, but perhaps are seeking. The brain recognizes patterns, and the feeling of being with someone who cares for us, affiliative behaviors, provides comfort and relief. The brain then activates relaxation and sleepiness, ergo, ASMR equals sleepy-time.
Although the tingles are best experienced in person, remember that scalp massager you used at Sharper Image 10 years ago, ASMR videos are bringing the sensation to introverts all over the world. If you happen to be partnered up, try watching together. No need to hide this secret pleasure, as there is no reported sexual arousal, however, it might be strange to walk in on someone watching without context. Share your reasoning for trying out ASMR, maybe your partner wasn’t aware of your insomnia, anxiety, etc., and bring them into your world, being vulnerable about your struggles can bring you closer. Still need help? Try explaining to your partner the sensation comes from feeling emotionally safe and trusting, allowing you to relax enough to feel the yummy tingles. If one partner experiences ASMR and the other does not, try reproducing the effect physically. Gently touching your partner’s hand or slowing drawing circles on their back may induce ASMR. Turn the next date night into an ASMR adventure and see what happens, it may be a beautiful opportunity to learn more about attuning to your partner, i.e., how to engage with their emotions.
ASMR as a Therapeutic Strategy
Individual therapy models such as Cognitive Behavioral and Somatic therapy that include relaxation, meditation, and touch, are proven to be helpful in addressing depression, anxiety, and emotional regulation, although not from the comfort of your bed. Indirectly, clinicians may be providing the tingling sensation by offering personal attention and attunement through the therapeutic process. Clients who are struggling with insomnia or preoccupations before bed are encouraged to develop skills that distract or redirect ruminations and worrying, as falling and staying asleep are critical. Tossing and turning all night does not lead to productive, happy-healthy humans, ASMR videos posit to alleviate these symptoms and provide a slow dip into sleepfulness. ASMR points to a unique opportunity in understanding the emotional complexity of individuals, as preliminary research highlights different brain region activation in ASMR experiencers. More robust studies are needed in order to dub ASMR as clinically appropriate. Musical frisson and synesthesia may be correlated, but they lack the controlled reproduction possible with ASMR. Dr. Craig Richard, the creator of asmruniversity.com, is committed to the ongoing research and development of the community. If you’re interested in learning more about ASMR, this is a good place to start.
Celebrities have caught on to the trend, you can watch Jessica Alba put on her makeup or Cardi B “okuuuuuuurt” in a whisper. The next time you’re having trouble falling asleep head over to YouTube and try out one of the thousands of ASMR videos, see what triggers might work for you, and don’t get frustrated if you don’t feel the tingles. Everyone can benefit from personal attention and relaxation, and who knows, maybe you’ll become the next tinglehead.