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Can whispering strangers help you sleep?

I admit, that’s a weird title for a blog post. And sure, ASMR is a bit odd at first glance. Let me explain: ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.

This jumble of words describes, per Wikipedia, “a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, [or back] in response to [assorted] stimuli.” The feeling can be triggered by ambient noises, repetitive movements, and certain emotional states.

If this description sounds at all familiar, you probably experience ASMR. If not, odds are you’re with the majority of the population, and don’t feel the tingly effects. But read on anyway — ASMR may still have benefits for everyone! And content creators on YouTube are now making videos to mimic the effects of ASMR.

ASMR has been said to help ‘shut the brain down’ before bed

According to a piece from the New York Times, ASMR videos offer people a unique way to quiet their thoughts for deep, restful sleep. The story quotes Dr. Carl W. Bazil, a sleep disorders specialist at Columbia University.

“People who have insomnia are in a hyper state of arousal,” Bazil said. “Behavioral treatments such as guided imagery, progressive relaxation, hypnosis, and meditation are meant to trick your unconscious into doing what you want it to do. ASMR videos seem to be a variation on finding ways to shut your brain down.”

The most common ASMR triggers include noises, such as gentle tapping or page-turning, as well as an individual whispering in a caring manner. The second kind of trigger, which can create a calm emotional state, is the reason so many ASMR videos take the form of role plays.

While these make-believe scenarios — often carried out in a salon or spa setting — are entirely scripted by the video creators, viewers report feeling relief from insomnia, anxiety, and even panic attacks after watching.

ASMR may also improve mood and increase relaxation

The first peer-reviewed article about ASMR was published on March 26. Researchers collected online survey results from 475 participants and found that most of them watch ASMR videos just before bed, as a sleep aid. 

80 percent of the group said ASMR videos have a positive effect on their mood, whether or not they experience the trademark tingling sensation. 

As for me, I watch ASMR videos to help focus while studying, or during my lunch break at work — if it’s been a rough day. 

I’ve told dozens of friends about the phenomenon and, while only two of them experience ASMR, more than five have told me they now watch the videos to get to sleep. 

What do you think – could whispering strangers help you relax? Or will you stick to a fan or sound machine if you need white noise to sleep?

    — Jennie Saia, Contributing Editor