What is ASMR? The modern world’s rising sleep aid.


A good night’s sleep is one of the most important things that a human can get. In fact, it’s hard to come up with a physical or mental body-function that sleep does NOT play a role in. 

And yet, many people neglect sleep, whether they mean to or not. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see people, on the internet or in person, bragging about how little sleep they get. And in some ways, I get the appeal; less sleep means more ‘hustle,’ more productivity, etc. 

Or does it?

Your body and your brain are tools; treat them well.

One of my favorite stories is about two men who compete to see who can chop down more trees. One of them hammers away endlessly with his axe, felling tree after tree. He sees the other guy sitting down frequently, and thinks to himself ‘he’s taking breaks? This is going to be so easy!’ Only the other man quickly begins overtaking him, and no matter how much effort the first guy puts in, he can’t catch up. 

Finally when it’s over, the first man, the one who worked nonstop, has lost. He asks his friend, “How did you win? I saw you taking breaks!” His friend laughs and replies, “I wasn’t just resting. I was sharpening my axe.”

The morale of the story is that spending more time working won’t do you much good, unless you take the time to keep your tools in good shape. And your brain and body are two VERY important tools. And sleep is an essential step to keeping them in good health.

Sleep isn’t always easy to get, though.

sleep aid

But not everyone who doesn’t get enough sleep fails because they don’t try. In fact, there are many people who lay awake at night, trying to sleep, only to spend hours just falling asleep. This makes for a very unproductive night, and can not only cut into your sleep, but frustrate you to no end.

What is ASMR?

According to Merriam Webster, ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. People know it as the sensation that you get when you watch or listen to something that relaxes your mind.

Overtime though, ASMR has taken on extra meaning. Not only do people refer to the relaxing feeling as ASMR, but also the things that tend to foster said feeling. For example, there are many times when I have heard the scene from Toy Story 2, where the toy specialist fixes Woody up, as ‘unintentional ASMR.’

What is ASMR
Certain sounds and/or images can trigger ASMR, the relaxing sensation that’s known to help ease insomnia and anxiety.

Anything can be ASMR; sound, visuals, visuals WITH sound. It can be something completely mundane, even. For example, there are entire Youtube channels that feature nothing but people eating food in front of a microphone. Do a search for it, and you’ll likely find some stuff you would never have thought of as relaxing.

How does ASMR work?

As is the case with many trends, the science behind this phenomenon is nowhere near strong enough to back up it’s cultural appeal. This might sound discouraging, but there is actually no proof that ASMR helps with sleep, or eases anxiety.

However, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work; it just means that the science to back it up is inconclusive. 

The case for ASMR as a sleep aid

But let’s try something unorthodox here: pretend that it’s over a million years ago, and that you are one of the cavemen that walked the earth. Every single day is a battle for survival, and so sleep is important (it still is important, even in the modern age.) 
But nighttime is also when everything is dark, and nocturnal predators rise from their slumber to find food…and that could very well mean you. It’s also an opportune time for rival cavemen to attack you and take what you have for themselves. Knowing that someone or something could spring an attack at any moment does NOT make for relaxing sleep.

Sleep soundly, knowing your fellows have got your back.

However, in that day and age, you would likely be apart of a tribe of fellow cavemen. And the rule ‘strength in numbers’ prevailed, as you slept soundly, knowing that there were fellow tribesmen tending the fire, keeping alert for danger. The warm glow and gentle crackling of the campfire, and the soft chatter of those keeping watch would lull you to sleep, for those were the sounds and pictures reminding you that you were safe.


Now, if those soft sounds and soft lights  helped our prehistoric ancestors get to sleep, would it not make sense that those responses are still hard-wired into our brains today, hundreds of thousands of years later? 

ASMR picks up where you left off millions of years ago

It’s important to note that I am not a scientist, and that the story I wrote above is nothing more than that: a story. 

But I feel like there is more than likely some truth to it, and that that is why many people say that their anxiety is calmed and their insomnia is lessened with sounds and/or videos playing. ASMR taps into that hard-wiring from a bygone era, where survival was a lot more difficult and questionable than it is today. 

Keeping this theory in mind, even the whole ‘listening to people eat is relaxing’ thing makes sense. Eating is generally something that you do when you are at rest, when there is no conflict or danger present. No one decides to eat a sandwich while they’re in the middle of a fight. 

Eating, campfires, soft chatter, the sounds of the ocean; it’s all ASMR. And moving pictures (videos or otherwise) depicting tedious, even boring (althoguh sometimes very interesting) tasks and jobs is ASMR too. And it’s these mundane, business-as-usual sounds that make us feel comfortable and safe, and allow us to begin to enter that coveted ‘tired’ state. That’s what makes ASMR such an effective sleeping aid.

Will ASMR work for me?

This is the part where I tell you that no one solution works for everyone. The sounds that might trigger ASMR in one person might not do it for someone else. We are all very special, very unique creatures. We all have had different lives, different experiences, and have seen and heard different things. 

It’s up to you to find the things that work for you. While listening to the sounds of the ocean might relax your friend, you might do better with the sounds of a forest at night: crickets chirping, owls hooting, etc.

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