Anxious. Stressed out. Maybe even a little bit depressed? We’re all running the full gamut of emotions as we deal with skin hunger, crippling isolation, and all the other soul-sucking side-effects of prolonged quarantining and social distancing. And as much as I want to put on a brave face and refuse to admit that it is bothering me I have to be honest with myself and admit that even I am facing an uphill battle as my recent trouble falling asleep suggests.
To combat my insomnia I recently began to do some online research for sleep tactics and came across something utterly fascinating. A condition that I’ve long experienced but never knew was a real thing: ASMR.
Autonomous sensory meridian response is the sensation that you get (often a tingling that runs down the back of your neck) when you encounter certain stimuli such as a soothing sound. Whispering is a common trigger for a lot of people. As is watching people undertake certain actions. And I’ll never forget the first time it happened to me: when I was food shopping and I saw someone comparing items to a checklist that they had. It was utterly fascinating as I caught of glimpse, just a mere glimpse, of them comparison shopping. After that it would happen to me more often. In libraries. On trains. In my workplace. Whenever someone would do something interesting it would happen; while shopping for something, watching someone read a newspaper while they ruffled the pages, or witnessing someone feverishly tap their fingers in certain seemingly random patterns while they worked. Whenever something weird would happen the feeling would return. Right on cue. Without hesitation. Instant goosebumps. Immediate joy.
I dismissed it. Chalked it up to one of my many quirks. Never even considered the possibility that it could be a real phenomenon. But phenomenon it is. There are even entire YouTube channels dedicated to it with the idea being that listening to soothing sounds before going to bed will actually help you fall asleep. But in my case the opposite happened. I was so fascinated watching someone read the weekend edition of the LA Times last night that I stayed up past my bedtime.
As it turns out I’m not alone when it comes to experiencing these brain orgasms. The feeling is apparently much more widespread than one might imagine.
The New York Times explains:
“When Jennifer Allen watched videos of space, she sometimes felt this peculiar sensation: a tingling that spread through her scalp as the camera pulled back to show the marble of the earth. It came in a wave, like a warm effervescence, making its way down the length of her spine and leaving behind a sense of gratitude and wholeness. Allen loved this feeling, but she didn’t know what caused it. It was totally distinct from anything she’d experienced before. Every two years or so she’d take to Google. She tried searching things like ‘tingling head and spine’ or ‘brain orgasm.’ For nine years, the search didn’t turn up anything.
Then, around 2009, it did. As always, Allen typed her phrases into Google, but this time she got a result on a message board called SteadyHealth. The post was titled WEIRD SENSATION FEELS GOOD:
I get this sensation sometimes. There’s no real trigger for it. it just happens randomly. It’s been happening since i was a kid and I’m 21 now. some examples of what it seems has caused it to happen before are as a child while watching a puppet show and when I was being read a story to. as a teenager when a classmate did me a favor and when a friend drew on the palm of my hand with markers. Sometimes it happens for no reason at all.
The poster went on to demand an explanation. In the discussion, nobody had one, but many described a similar feeling — a ‘silvery sparkle’ inside the head, a euphoric ‘brain-gasm’ or a feeling like goose bumps in the scalp that faded ‘in and out in waves of heightened intensity.’ Many people agreed that the sensation was euphoric. (‘Aside from an actual orgasm, it’s probably the most enjoyable sensation possible,’ one user wrote.) Its triggers were as varied as watching someone fill out a form, listening to whispering sounds or seeing Bob Ross paint landscapes on TV.”
Knowing that my “condition” is a real thing and that I’m not alone is comforting. Admitting all this for the firsts time is a monkey off my back for sure. But beyond that it’s also practical. Offering hope that listening to ASMR sounds before bed could actually help me fall asleep. In fact, I’m going to go try it right now. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Is ASMR the Greatest Idea Ever?