Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, more commonly referred to as ASMR, is described as tingling sensations in the neck and head triggered by whispering or repetitive movements. Most people will describe those tingling sensations as pleasurable or relaxing at the very least. ASMR has not been extensively studied; there are many things we don’t know about it; in other words, the psychological basis of ASMR has not been conclusively established yet.
That being said, existing studies have shown that ASMR has therapeutic properties to improve various conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, and depression. Current findings suggest that watching ASMR videos does give pleasant effects to the viewer, but this only applies to those who actually have experienced similar sensory response before. A follow-up study corroborates that finding as the results indicate that ASMR is in fact associated with increased level of skin conductance (in which case the skin becomes better conductor of electricity) and reduced heart rate. It is therefore safe to conclude (up to this point) that ASMR is a physiologically-rooted experience that potentially has therapeutic benefits for physical and mental health.
The tingling sensations occur involuntarily in response to (or triggered by) external factors for examples whispering, scratching, tapping, and careful slow hand movements. A person may also trigger ASMR when he/she feels deep personal attention or witnesses a display of strong affection from another. Because the “triggers” are not at all unusual in everyday situations, a lot of people have actually experienced ASMR from childhood. However, they have tendencies to assume that the sensations are either unique or even universal. Over the years, and partly thanks to the spread of information via Internet, more people have realized that ASMR is neither universal nor unique. Everybody can experience it, but the sensations are not always the same in different individuals.
Hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people are now eager viewers and loyal audience of ASMR contents, more prominently in video formats, uploaded by a group of people who call themselves ASMRtist – the shortened term for ASMR-artists – to video sharing websites such as YouTube. Some of the most popular videos feature activities like tapping, page flipping, massaging, whispering, towel folding, brushing, and more. People watch the videos not only to experience the tingling sensations, but also to let ASMR help them fall asleep, promote relaxation, and improve anxiety or depression.
Relaxation Helps People to Fall Asleep
According to Craig Richard, Ph.D., founder of ASMR University (also professor of biopharmaceutical sciences at Shenandoah University School of Pharmacy in Winchester, Virginia), the sensations of ASMR feel similar to those of relaxations commonly associated with massage. It is as relaxing as pleasurable head tingles. In the same publication in WebMD, Beverley K. Fredborg who is also a prominent researcher of ASMR suggests that the sensations are possibly similar to the chills you get from listening to music; they are related, but not necessarily the same. When listening to music, the excitement or thrill happens throughout the body but lasts for very short time. ASMR, on the other hand, occurs mainly in the neck and head, and you can feel the sensations for at least several minutes. It is not particularly surprising if prolonged relaxation produces good relief for frustrated minds and body; in the end, it helps people with sleeping problems to fall asleep more easily.
How People Describe ASMR
One of the best ways to describe ASMR is a sort of natural satisfactory sensations in the brain; you can all it a “brain orgasm” if you want. Let us not forget that most people feel the experience as tingling sensations instead of excitement. In comparison, listening to music (very good music, which is most likely a subjective measure) does evoke a “chill” of shivery feeling throughout the body. It tends to happen all at once and the feeling is quite overwhelming at times. Being overwhelming, however, is not synonymous with satisfactory. While the chill can be the feeling of sadness, happiness, or even bewilderment, ASMR is comprised of nothing other than feel-good sensations. Also, ASMR is isolated only in the head and neck areas – which may explain the strong psychological effects too – instead of all over the body.
As mentioned earlier, the triggers can be sounds and sights or a combination of those two. It is worth mentioning that everyone’s triggers are different, and this is why you can now see many dozens of ASMR videos featuring a lot of different things as well. Some people get the sensation from touching certain textures (or hearing someone else moves an object with a particular texture against another object to create or accentuate specific sounds), smelling a scent, or witnessing an affection. Those triggers, in real everyday situations, can be a lot of things and they don’t have to be rarities for examples:
- Hair brushing
- Light tapping
- Slow and repetitive movements
- Page flipping
- Medical examination or even haircut (activities in which great attentions are on display)
- Apple biting
- Crisp sounds
- Hand Rubbing
With such simple things or activities can act as triggers, you would expect that everyone should benefit from ASMR, and they can improve their insomnia and therefore fall asleep with ease every day. It must be such an effective therapy because you can get the treatment from just about everything. In reality, unfortunately, ASMR does not work for everyone. If you don’t experience it the first time, you may not be able to experience it at all.
For those who experience the tingling sensations, the good news is that the relaxation is real, which also means ASMR can help them overcome difficulty sleeping. Since ASMR videos often have relatively long duration (some videos actually last for several hours), they can just watch or listen until they drift off.
A study conducted by researchers from The University of Sheffield in the U.K., confirmed the efficacy of watching ASMR videos to overcome, albeit temporarily, stress and sadness, according to a publication by Forbes. People who watch such videos have highest level of calmness and excitement and the lowest level of sadness at the same time.
At the end of the day, difficulty sleeping can be the result of a variety of conditions from emotional discomfort to physical pain, from substance use to environmental factors. If insomnia happens because of anxiety, depression, high stress level, or even physical injuries, ASMR certainly helps as it triggers the feelings of relax and reduced sadness to a great extent. ASMR can help, but only when it is used as treatment/therapy tool to address the right issues.