Friday, 8 March 2019

Sleep: ASMR research

Recently I listened to an interesting podcast on Radio New Zealand (13 January 2019) about Professor Craig Richard, a professor of bio-pharmaceutical science at Virginia's Shenandoah University. Since 2013 he has been studying a phenomenon known as Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR. ASMR creates a calm state through listening to whispering or soft natural sounds to relax, to meditate or to sleep. A quick search will show there are thousands of videos on YouTube that people can use to create an ASMR response.

The key elements to getting into ASMR are non-threatening, slow pace, quiet and low register sounds. This is not white noise territory, but the kind of peaceful and hushed - cosy - sounds that we would imagine children falling safely asleep to. Some users like listening to people whispering, some like the sounds of water, some enjoy rain, some enjoy thunderstorms, or the sounds of brushing. The range is staggering.

Sometimes the ASMR response will provide what Professor Richard calls 'brain tingles'. This which is where the listener will experience tingling in the scalp which can travel down the neck and into the spine (a superb soprano will give me this sensation, but I find it thrilling, not relaxing). Some people may get this from having their hair washed at the hairdresser, having a massage, or having someone read to them in a very quiet and soft voice.

Professor Richard suggests that people who are having trouble sleeping could try playing something from YouTube, very quietly, as they go to bed (see example below, which you could also put YouTube into dark mode here).

Whether the scientific evidence stacks up is still a moot point, as AMSR only started in 2009, but there have been ten peer reviewed publications. Seven have been user surveys. A couple have done fMRI scans of people in the state. The brainwaves change, which may be due to an oxytosin response (but no research has been done on that yet).

Many users find listening to the videos effective for sleeping, or to reduce stress. If any readers experience insomnia, give it a try. It certainly won't hurt you.


Sam

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