Can ASMR help you overcome insomnia?

October 04, 2018 07:58
ASMR technology creates a pleasant auditory environment that allows listeners to fall asleep easily. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

You toss and turn, wake up easily, and get up exhausted. Sometimes you just feel tired but can't get to sleep. It's frustrating: the angrier you become, the more you can't sleep. It's a cycle that never ends.

By varying estimates, sleeping disorders affect up to 40 percent of people at some point, but what if there was a way technology could help? Autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, is the latest wave of audio technology hitting the airwaves, predominantly through its proponents on YouTube.

ASMR takes sounds such as whispering, soft speech, folding towels, hands rubbing on various textures, lighting matches, using brushes, unraveling tape, pouring water, painting and drawing, and loops them infinitely, creating a pleasant auditory environment for falling asleep. These soothing noises are supposed to trigger “brain tingles” or “brain orgasms” that allow listeners to fall asleep easily.

Instead of dismissing the phenomenon as a mere fad, researchers are taking it very seriously. A study from University of Sheffield and Manchester Metropolitan University cited more than 13 million ASMR videos on YouTube, and the phenomenon could be directly attributed to the rise of people watching and falling asleep to videos online.

“Lots of people report experiencing ASMR since childhood and awareness of the sensation has risen dramatically over the past decade due to internet sites such as YouTube and Reddit," said Giulia Poerio, of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Psychology, regarding the study.

The researcher added that in those people that did experience the effects of ASMR (not everybody can), the average reductions in heart rate experienced were comparable to stress-reduction techniques such as music and mindfulness.

And if you believe the hype, the stats are pretty impressive. According to Quartz, GentleWhispering, YouTube’s top ASMR channel, makes US$130,000 in a year, while other ASMR video makers report earning US$2,000 monthly.

In the UK, BBC Radio 3 is getting in on the act with its “slow radio”, featuring the likes of animal sounds, clocks and other ambient noises that offer “a chance for quiet mindfulness and a consideration of the world from another angle”, according to Alan Davey, controller of Radio 3.

“I believe we are at a tipping point. For a long time people have been encouraged to consume things in short chunks, but I think there is increasingly a longing amongst younger audiences, and certainly an appetite I see in live performance, for longer things, things that take the time that they take, that will take you out of something for a bit,” Davey told The Guardian.

The concept taps into the heritage of late night radio, particularly with the likes of Shipping Forecast, the BBC Radio broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas. For many audiences, there is something deeply meditative about listening to it. Having trouble getting zzzs? This could just be the remedy.

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EJI contributor