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New Tingles from an Odd Altered State

I thought I’d heard of every route to an altered state, every alternative technology. Being married to a psychologist who specializes in clinical hypnosis and writing a novel about kundalini would seem a pretty good start. But I’ve just run across a new method…or at least new to me.

It’s called ASMR; it reportedly can lead to fireworks bursts of tingly sensations in the head and to an easy slide into sleep. I’m still waiting for the fireworks. I can happily attest to the part about sleep.

ASMR stands for Autonomous Meridan Sensory Response. And I’m late to be learning about this; it has already been written about in The Atlantic (“How to Have a ‘Brain Orgasm'”), The Washington Post (“A Whisper, Then Tingles, Then 87 Million YouTube Views…), and The New York Times (“How the Internet Puts You to Sleep”).

3d render of Brain functions, synapses

3d render of Brain functions, synapses

So what is it?

ASMR sensations — the tingles, the sleep — are triggered by audio/video experience of whispering and soft crinkling or tapping kinds of sounds. The key is very soft sounds, coming in both ears. Often these are associated with an experience of being groomed or cared-for — the sounds of getting a haircut from a stylist who is whispering in both ears, for example. Other audios are simply a voice reading — from most any source — in a whisper.

Some people associate the process with the effects of meditation. Few connect it with sex (more on this momentarily.)

There are also ASMR audios in French, Russian, etc. And it’s irrelevant whether you speak the language — it’s the soft rush of sound that seems to matter, the intimacy of it.

My Experience So Far

I happened upon this ASMR thing online and, since I’d had some trouble sleeping, I decided to play with it. It has put me to sleep pretty quickly every time I’ve used it. I could possibly convince myself that I’ve felt a few scalp prickles, but nothing to amount to much, nothing at the scale of what many others report. I was simply happy to have found such an entertaining exotic curious way to get to sleep fast.

I started with listening to a history of Marie Antoinette read to me in French. That worked gangbusters. Another was a 19 year-old boy whispering about dropping out of university, then not wanting to take online courses, and deciding to go to massage school. I was even lulled to sleep by someone quietly ranting against capitalism — I stuck with that mainly because I couldn’t believe it would work. It did.

A boy relaxing on a soft cloud

A boy relaxing on a soft cloud

Sex, Spirituality — Both, Neither?

What seems most typical in these videos is attractive women whispering as they do some quiet tender grooming activity, like hair brushing. And yet people who partake are almost always insistent that this is not a sexual experience. (There are also male voices, but fewer.)

It’s true that there is no overt sexual content. And that being lulled to sleep certainly does not argue for sexual.

However, it’s an intimate physical experience. Likely location: bed. I find it a little sexy.

And spiritual? That too. It does feel meditative. And ethereal, other-worldly; yet comfortingly connected to humans and our simple daily ways.

What Causes It?

Don’t know. And I can’t find anyone who knows. For theories, you might have a look at ASMR University.

The place to go to give it a try is YouTube. You can search there by simply typing in “ASMR” — or get more specific with something like “whisper French man reading Marie Antoinette.”

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response

Here’s a sample. You can simply listen (which requires headphones.) Or you can at the same time watch. I’ve chosen listening with my eyes closed; the pictures and video I found distracting.

Have you tried it? How did your altered state go?

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  • July 27, 2015 at 7:40 pm Reply

    Peggy, your hook was irresistible! And I think I may have discovered why I fall asleep so fast when I go to bed and listen to a book: I play it very softly (whisper-loud, you might say) so as not to disturb my wife. I’m usually asleep within a minute! Takes many, many nights to read a book this way, let me tell you.

    • Peggy Payne
      July 27, 2015 at 8:09 pm Reply

      You discovered it on your own, Moristotle! Very cool!

  • Jane Andrews
    July 28, 2015 at 6:32 pm Reply

    It’s the imitation of intimacy. Between a parent and child- goodnight stories, soft voices, or between partners, whispered endearments and pillow talk. It means safety, acceptance, being cared for. It allows and echoes the experience of vulnerability, relieviing you of the burden of your self while surrendering to it.

    • Peggy Payne
      July 28, 2015 at 6:48 pm Reply

      I like the idea of the relieving of the burden of one’s self. Do you think the imitation element gets in the way of the real thing, Jane, or makes it a bad idea somehow?

  • Bob Dick
    July 28, 2015 at 8:09 pm Reply

    Interesting, and evidently useful. I’ve no opinion about why or how it helps sleep – all I’m interested in is does it ? And passing on if it does. I’ll share link to yr post & re-post on Facebook if I’mm able to figure out how, and get feedback on falling-asleep effectiveness. And I’ll try it on for size myself. Thanks for finding and sharing. b

    • Peggy Payne
      July 28, 2015 at 10:29 pm Reply

      Thanks, Dr. Bob. I’ll sure be interested in how it works for you.

  • July 29, 2015 at 1:59 am Reply

    maybe this is why sound machines are so effective

    • Peggy Payne
      July 29, 2015 at 4:20 pm Reply

      Makes sense to me, Rebecca. And I’m finding that foreign languages work better for me than English, which would support the idea of meaningless sounds being effective.

  • August 4, 2015 at 5:26 pm Reply

    I have not tried it, but I bookmarked the youtube link, and I will try it soon. I have an idea that a foreign language would work well for me. I never have trouble falling asleep, however, this might make it happen sooner.

    • Peggy Payne
      August 4, 2015 at 5:33 pm Reply

      I’ll be interested to hear how it works for you, kenju. It was miraculous for me for about a week, since then not as good. I think I’m taking time to be picky about the youtube selection and seeing too much blue screen. I hope that’s what it is.

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