Elizabeth Entenman
October 29, 2018 7:00 am
YouTube/Getty Images

One of the most important things you can do for your mental health is get a good night’s sleep. But that’s often easier said than done. If you’ve tried every sleep hack in the book and still can’t catch those much-needed Zs, you could try watching or listening to ASMR videos before bed.

If you’re unfamiliar with ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, it’s a deeply relaxing, comforting, and pleasurable tingling feeling that starts in your scalp and spreads to your neck, back, and arms—for some people. Many refer to the sensation as “brain tingles” or “brain orgasms;” it’s almost as if your scalp gets goosebumps. The sensation of ASMR is commonly experienced through watching ASMR videos on YouTube. A typical ASMR video features one person (called an ASMRtist) sitting in complete silence and slowly making crisp sounds directly—that’s the key—into a microphone. They might whisper softly, tap objects with their long nails, or handle noisy textures. It’s most effective if you wear headphones while you listen to allow the sound to really get into your ears as intended.

According to the BBC, the official term “ASMR” wasn’t coined until 2010. But the sensation of brain tingles has been around forever; there just wasn’t a community consciously devoted to the practice and enjoyment of it. As YouTube rose in popularity, people began making videos devoted to capturing the tingling sensation they’d always quietly experienced and enjoyed, but never had a name for. All of a sudden, more and more people found each other and wanted to talk about “that feeling,” and ta-da: ASMR was officially born.

But not everybody experiences ASMR brain tingles. Despite its popularity, there’s still not a lot of research around ASMR. But one study, published by Social Neuroscience in 2016, sought to examine individuals who do experience it, and the researchers found that people who feel ASMR tingles might form different neural pathways than those who don’t.

If you think ASMR is reserved for the bizarre corners of the internet, think again.

Beloved beauty brand Lush has created over 142,000 ASMR videos that you can enjoy with your next bath bomb. Even Cardi B is in on the trend. She recently made a 13-minute video exploring ASMR for W magazine. And she’s not nearly the first. W has an entire playlist of celebrity ASMR interviews with familiar faces, including Aubrey Plaza, Amandla Stenberg, and Jenny Slate.

ASMR videos are incredibly polarizing; not everybody experiences the tingles and many feel uncomfortable watching the clips. But if you do find ASMR enjoyable, it could be just the thing to help you get a good night’s asleep.

I wanted to know: Would listening to ASMR before bed for a week help me sleep better?

First, I decided to learn more about ASMR as a whole. Before I started the experiment, I had an idea of what ASMR was, but I didn’t have a lot of experience with it. I’d watched a few ASMR videos here and there out of curiosity, but they didn’t go much beyond whispering, scratching, and tapping.

I dove into the ASMR subreddit, which has over 165,000 subscribers, and I dove in deep. I quickly learned two major things. One, people really do enjoy being “triggered”—their word—by ASMR videos. And two, there are a variety of different triggers that cause tingles.

If you watch an ASMR video and don’t “get” it, that’s okay. Maybe you haven’t found your trigger yet, or maybe it’s just not for you. Or, maybe you’ve experienced tingles in the past without realizing it.

There are a variety of different triggers that cause ASMR tingles.

ASMR triggers include whispering, scratching, tapping, blowing, pages turning, eating, chewing, and other mouth sounds. Some people are also triggered by receiving personal attention, which is where role-playing ASMR comes in. If you want to feel like you’re getting somebody’s full attention, you can watch role-play videos of common scenarios, such as getting a haircut, going to the doctor’s office, or even getting your eyebrows waxed. And on the other side of the coin, I noticed many videos had “(No Talking)” in the title, suggesting that many people seek out videos with no voiceover at all.

Everyone’s ASMR triggers are different; pretty much any sound can be one. And as ASMR continues to grow in popularity, there’s no limit to what you’ll find. There are ASMR videos of people cutting Styrofoam, cleaning their ears with Q-tips, and spreading shaving cream on random objects. One night, I watched nearly 16 minutes of someone rummaging through a pile of makeup products. I can’t quite explain why, but I enjoyed it.

So, can listening to ASMR before bed help you sleep better?

Is the key to a good night’s sleep really just sitting on YouTube? For free? Could it be that easy? Some people certainly seem to think so.

For me, listening to ASMR before bed was relaxing, but it didn’t completely revolutionize my sleep schedule. You’ll learn pretty quickly what does and doesn’t trigger you. Personally, I find listening to someone scratch a microphone with long nails oddly soothing. But listening to someone crunch on cookies and slurp down just wasn’t my cup of tea. This video of a woman eating raw honeycomb has almost 18 million views, and it makes my skin crawl.

If you want to try listening to ASMR before bed for yourself, I recommend subscribing to a podcast.

I found that easier and more enjoyable, because I wasn’t particularly triggered by the performance aspect of ASMR. I suggest Sleep Whispers or Sleep and Relax ASMR. Or, you could search “ASMR sleep” on YouTube and find an endless amount of videos created specifically to help you fall asleep.

So, what’s the final verdict? Is listening to ASMR before bed beneficial?

Try as I might, listening to ASMR before bed didn’t help me sleep any more soundly. I don’t think I experience tingles as deeply as some people do. But listening to ASMR before bed did help me fall asleep quicker. (That’s not meant to be a dig at any creators! Your content didn’t bore me. It relaxed me, which is what I think you were going for.)

I don’t think I’ll make a habit out of listening to ASMR before bed, but it certainly was interesting to try for a week. And who knows? The next time I’m lying in bed, wide awake and unable to fall asleep, maybe I’ll let someone whisper in my ear to lull me to dreamland.

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