I tried ASMR for a week and it helped me sleep like a baby
It’s the relaxation technique praised by Cara Delevingne
by Helena Baron
Ever felt strangely relaxed by the attendant checking you in at a hotel? Or pleasant shivers down your spine whilst getting a massage? Chances are you were experiencing an Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR. Having been nicknamed everything from a head hug to a head orgasm, this phenomenon didn’t have an official name until 2010, when Jennifer Allen gave it its official title.
ASMR is described as physical (tingles and/or chills in the body, frequently in the head neck or spine area) and psychological reactions (comfort, happiness, relaxation), to tactile, visual or auditory stimuli, (such as tapping, soft voices, slow movements and certain surfaces). Having grown in popularity over the past few years, ASMR “artists” have become YouTube stars in their own right – even celebrities like Queen Delevingne have tried their hand at it.
Although not clinically proven, speaking to Dr Craig Richard, founder of the ASMR University, I found out that there was a paper published in 2015 in which the majority of study participants had reported ASMR to have helped them sleep or relax in some form. In fact he himself said “it is very effective at relaxing [him] and helping [him] sleep”. As someone who needs at least an hour to get to sleep on the average night, I thought I would try my luck with ASMR for a week to see if I noticed any difference.
Emma Smith, the ASMR artist behind the WhispersRed YouTube channel, recommended that “it helps to be ready for sleep, comfortable and in a place you can rest” before you plug yourself into some ASMR, so I crawled under my duvets, propped myself up with some pillows, and popped in my headphones. I had chosen a popular video which took the form of a role play; the idea was that a caring friend was going to help me go to sleep. To be honest, for the first few minutes I didn’t really feel anything, and I kind of felt disheartened because Emma had said that “if you experience the ASMR sensation, you will very likely feel it immediately”. Then again she also cautioned that “some take a while to find their trigger” and to be honest I think I was just put off a little by the one-sided conversation that was going on between the artist and the camera as she “massaged” my face or “brushed” my hair. Maybe next time I’d pick a different genre.
On day Ttwo I found a video which was described as including the most “underrated” ASMR trigger: microphone-tapping. This seemed a world away from the role play which I just couldn’t get into whilst staring at a YouTube screen. I wasn’t wrong – although the artist spoke a little at the very beginning, she soon transitioned into gently tapping some hyper-sensitive microphones with her nails. Almost immediately I felt some soft tingling sensations at the back of my neck which then proceeded to spread around my scalp and my shoulders. Within 15 minutes I felt completely relaxed and turned off the video, turned over and went to sleep.
I was really looking forward to going to bed today, I already had the video from the day before queued up and ready to go. Unfortunately, my anticipation of the coming relaxation was too great and for some reason that fact that I was expecting it to happen meant it didn’t. At all. Maybe I just wasn’t susceptible to seeing the same video twice.
Considering what had happened the night before, I decided to try a new type of ASMR, the type I’d originally stumbled across – whispered make-up tutorials. This was much easier to get into than the roleplay because I didn’t quite have to suspend my imagination to the point at which I’d jumped onto the other side of the camera. As someone who watches tutorials as relaxation anyway, it actually worked quite well: the whispering and tapping of the make-up at times prompted the ASMR, and listening to the process of putting make-up on was quite therapeutic in itself.
Days five & six
For the next two days I decided to switch back to the videos of pure sounds and no talking, which had ultimately given me a better ASMR-pure experience. I managed to keep the ‘anticipation’ at bay by just picking different artists and different videos each day, meaning there was no expectation as to the reaction I would feel. It worked wonders! Both nights I spent between 15-30mins listening to these ASMR videos and both times I had to cut the video short and switch my phone off so I could roll over and fall asleep – which I did almost immediately.
On the last day of this trial I’d had such a busy day that by the time I ended up in bed, I was ready for some serious shut-eye. But, just to see whether ASMR had anything to do with the actual quality of my sleep rather than just how fast the sleep came to me, I chose a three minute video performed by none other than Cara Delevingne for W Magazine. Talking mainly about her preparation for her various characters in her new movie, her ramblings became quite effective white noise, whilst her whispering acted as a trigger for an ASMR experience. Whilst I could’ve listened to her voice for quite a while, by the end of those three minutes I was more than ready to pull up my covers and fall into a very peaceful sleep.
Ultimately there isn’t really any scientific evidence (yet) to back up any claims of improved sleep or destressing or relaxation. But regardless of whether it has been proven or not, one thing is for certain – my ‘watch later’ YouTube list has definitely grown in number, this time to the tune of several ASMR videos. Maybe it was a psychological reaction, maybe I just don’t want to risk running into that hour-long waiting time for sleep again – but hey, if it ain’t broke…