For most of my adult life I've suffered from insomnia. I've tried many different supposed remedies, including hypnosis, intentional sleep deprivation, exercise, strict routines, warm milk before bed and even Zopiclone. None of the above has been particularly effective, with the exception of perhaps Zopiclone, which became useless after four weeks anyway as my body very quickly built up a tolerance.
However, intentionally triggering my Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) seems to be, rather surprisingly, the most effective way of tricking my brain into gently drifting off to Bedfordshire. According to the ASMR Research & Support website, ASMR is "a physical sensation characterised by a pleasurable tingling that typically begins in the head and scalp, and often moves down the spine and through the limbs."
In other words, they're rather like brain orgasms, or braingasms if you're into portmanteaus. Never would I have thought that listening to a young woman offering me a hand relaxation whisper session, or a Japanese man making pretend food, or someone building the Burj Khalifa out of Lego, would be the key to falling asleep every night after years and years of struggle.
ASMR is a strange beast to describe to those that have never experienced it. Some people, it seems, simply aren't susceptible, whilst others (like myself) are highly sensitive to its effects. For those that cannot experience this phenomenon, I am truly sorry for you. Seriously. You poor bastards. It's one of the most intensely pleasurable feelings I've ever encountered. It's sort of what I'd imagine heroin must feel like, only I don't have to deal with the vomiting, constipation, guilt, shame, dirty needles, diseases and the inevitable untimely death in some sordid South London squat. No, none of those horrors are necessary. Instead, I simply listen to someone gently whispering to me until I feel I've had enough for one evening, or until I fall asleep in a soporific haze of sweet, sweet braingasms.
I was first aware of this sensation when I was a child; my history teacher had a very specific way of speaking. Her consonants were pronounced with a unique click, her plosives were soft and gentle and her voice was both slow and considered. I would often zone out. I've never been much good at history as a result, but I've figured as long as I know the important things like Henry VIII had 10 wives and WWII ended in 1985, it doesn't much matter.
At this early stage, I didn't realise ASMR was a thing. It wasn't until my late teens, when I discovered the 'Whisper Community' on YouTube, that I realised the intense feelings of relaxation could be intentionally triggered. The Whisper Community consists of a large group of YouTube users who individually record videos in which they can be heard whispering about their lives, reciting poems, novels or sometimes talking gibberish, in order to relax their fellow whisperers. For some reason softly spoken eye test roleplay is also very popular. After I overcame the initial creepy element of a stranger whispering in my ear, I was hooked.
The full realisation of what I'd unearthed didn't occur to me until late one evening whilst I was browsing through the popular social news website Reddit. I stumbled upon a user submitted post in which someone asked whether or not anyone else had experienced strange 'tingly' feelings in their heads under certain conditions, conditions that were very similar to the ones I've already described above. It was only then that I realised this feeling not only had a name, but was also currently the subject of research. For purposes of clarity, here is a specific list of triggers, taken directly from the ASMR Research & Support website:
- Exposure to slow, accented, or unique speech patterns
- Viewing educational or instructive videos or lectures
- Experiencing a high empathetic or sympathetic reaction to an event
- Enjoying a piece of art or music
- Watching another person complete a task, often in a diligent, attentive manner - examples would be filling out a form, writing a check, going through a purse or bag, inspecting an item closely, etc.
- Close, personal attention from another person
- Haircuts, or other touch from another on head or back
However, there is a problem. I fear I'm becoming addicted. Every evening I frequent the ASMR sub-reddit in the hope of finding something new. What's more, I'm becoming an ASMR connoisseur. No longer am I satisfied with straight forward whispering, I want it to be a particular female voice, with a particular accent, talking about a particular thing. Additionally, standard stereo recordings aren't good enough anymore, I need binaural god damn it!
So maybe I do have a problem after all. Maybe in a few years time you'll see me running around London with a soulless look in my eyes, begging strangers to talk softly to me. Maybe you'll see me pleading to Japanese men to cook fake food next to my bed whilst I slowly fall asleep. Maybe I shouldn't have told you about ASMR in the first place. Maybe this is the beginning of something awful, something far worse than insomnia. Oh god, what have I done?