ASMR. Heard of it?
No, well don’t worry too much, you’re not completely out of touch – it didn’t officially exist until 2010.
Well, presumably it did exist and has for all of human history. What I mean is it hadn’t been classified and didn’t have a name until 2010. Which means in scientific terms means it didn’t really exist.
Even now it’s a largely unknown and understudied phenomenon.
Yeah, but what is it?
ASMR or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response to give the phenomenon its fancy full technical description, is in essence an uncontrollable physical reaction felt in response to a sensory stimulus.
It’s more often than not characterised as a tingling sensation on the back of the head, down the neck or along the spine. Sometimes over the entire body.
This is then followed by a feeling of extreme relaxation.
What causes it?
Strictly speaking the sensation can be caused by any form of sensory input. That said, over the last few years, thanks to the wonder of the internet, a kind of subculture has emerged which focuses on some quite consistent triggering content.
The most popular triggers involve videos of individuals whispering, scratching, tapping or blowing into the camera.
Role play videos in the form of individuals pretending to give the viewer a haircut, facial or doctor appointment are also popular. The common theme being personal attention directed at the viewer.
Other popular videos amongst ‘those in the know’, remarkably involve rediscovered clips from the long running 1980s tv show The Joy of Painting, featuring the dulcet tones of and languid movements of American landscape painter and television presenter Bob Ross.
Within the online community the sensation received from watching these videos is known colloquially by ASMRers as getting the ‘brain tingles’ or even having a ‘headgasm’.
Headgasm! Ok, I get it, it’s a sex thing?
No, not really, only a very small percentage of individuals consume ASMR related media for sexual stimulation. Or at least only a small percentage admit so publicly. Less than 5% according to one of the only surveys conducted.
The vast majority use it as a means for relaxation, stress relief and to deal with sleep problems.
It can be quite a difficult thing to explain to those who haven’t felt the sensation. Some liken the sensation to a ‘pleasurable headache’, or a scalp massage but one that takes place on the inside – in a good way!
Is it real?
In short, yes.
The fact that thousands of people across the planet report experiencing roughly the same response to roughly the same stimuli. And thousands upon thousands are watching videos in order to trigger the response kind of makes it real.
Exactly what kind of ‘real’ is up for debate. Is it something we are born with? Is it something we have to learn how to experience? Is everybody experiencing the same thing? These are all question that psychologists and neuroscience will have to answer when they catch up.
Due to strange phenomenon of the internet discovering ASMR before medical science, there does of course exist a lot of pseudoscience around the sensation.
A lot of commentators suggest that the tingles and consequent feeling of relaxation is caused by the body releasing oxytocin – the so called ‘hug hormone’ – but the actual evidence for this is weak.
O…kay, so this can help me sleep?
Well, yes and no. A little bit like hypnosis, ASMR seems to work better on some individuals than others, and in many cases won’t work at all.
Certain Youtube videos that will send thousands of viewers into an almost instant tingling meditative trance will be face-melting dull and teeth-grindingly irritating to others.
In terms of helping you sleep. If you’re susceptible to ASMR content then the answer is a resounding yes. Well, at least it’s according to the mounds of anecdotal evidence available online. Again little formal research has been conducted thus far.
For more assistance on what can and can’t help you sleep, check out the Sleep Advisor blog.
Where can I find these videos?
Youtube is the natural home of ASMR videos. Countless different content creators exist. But with 1.1 million subscribers the resident queen of ASMR goes by the very appropriate name GentleWhispering.
She describes the sensation of ASMR as akin to feeling “bubbles in your head” again, in a good way.
To give you an idea of what makes a good content for ASMR, some of GentleWhispering’s most popular videos have her slowly crinkly bags of crisps, folding napkins, reading out airline safety instructions.
My advice, check out some videos for yourself. The worst thing that can happen is you get a little bit bored. The alternative is ASMR works for you and suddenly you have a new weapon in your fight against sleepless nights.
Good luck. And say hello to Bob Ross for me.