It’s that brain-tingling, hard-to-describe oddity. The sort of peculiar sensation that’s hard to describe and even harder to articulate. Sometimes people call it a “silvery sparkle” or the feeling of getting goosebumps on the scalp. It came in waves for Jennifer Allen, like warm bubbles, before making its way down her spine. In its wake, a feeling of being complete, whole, and of gratitude.
Allen loved the feeling, but she had no idea how to replicate it when needed or why it seemed to be triggered by certain sounds. Every few years, she’d try asking the internet but got nowhere fast until about a decade ago, when she finally found something on the internet that seemed to match what she’d been feeling. Allen continued to comb through the internet forum where she discovered countless other people just like her – people who experienced sensations in their brains when they heard certain sounds or saw certain images.
So she set out to really understand what was going on with her and others. But she still didn’t know what to call this strange sensation, so she made up a new clinical-sounding name for it: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR. Allen says she started the term with the word autonomous because these are feelings that come from within. ASMR is a perceptual, sensory phenomenon that’s likened most often to a transcendent state often experienced during meditation.
Within months, her fledgling group had spread to six continents, and soon members were creating videos to produce ASMR. Videos started cropping up online and often featured an anonymous woman delivering soft-spoken voice-over narration. Now, thousands of video creators release, on average, about 500 new ASMR videos each day on YouTube. Videos range from women chewing gum, simulating eye exams, turning pages in books, and even peeling dried glue off of artificial ears.
These videos aim to relax the viewer and might work on helping lull tired viewers sleep. As everyone in the military knows, the concept of a work-life balance is pretty much nonexistent.
With that comes chronic sleep deprivation and rest deficiencies. According to sleep.org, almost 8 in 10 service members on active duty have a diagnosed sleep condition like insomnia, restless leg syndrome, or sleep apnea. Medications leave personnel groggy the next morning, so the military is suggesting exploring ASMR videos instead.
Added to that is the high number of service personnel who suffer from some stress-related disorders like PTSD, MST, or combat stress. Of course, ASMR isn’t going to replace cognitive therapy, but it might help offset some of the debilitating aspects of having a PTSD related condition. There’s an entire section of ASMR videos related to promoting feelings of being safe. There are even entire channels specifically curated for veterans dealing with these issues.
There are literally countless sub-categories of sounds and experiences within the ASMR community online, so if the idea of turning pages isn’t interesting, you might find something else that works. In fact, there’s an entire subculture related to military ASMR videos. Video content ranges from MRE unboxing to WWI history told by an English Officer. There are even videos of women scratching their nails along canteens while speaking softly. All of these videos are designed to help encourage relaxation and promote a feeling of wellness.
While ASMR might seem weird at the outset, there’s really not much else to lose – especially if you are one of those eight in 10 service members who are already having trouble sleeping. Research is currently ongoing to explore whether or not ASMR benefits are clinical in nature or simply psychosomatic. But really, what’s it matter if it’s helping you feel less anxious, calmer, and eventually, more rested? It can be hard to accept the idea of a brain tingle, but for those who have experienced it, ASMR might just be the thing that helps them finally get to sleep.