I wanted to try doing a daily meditation. Everyone seemed to be recommending it. It's good for mental health, racing minds, anxiety, stress, a better night's sleep, so that's how I got suckered in. It wasn't for the entertainment. At first.
From meditation apps to sleep triggers
I started by installing a few freemium app options – Headspace, Calm, Breethe. Usually I switched them on when I went to bed as that was the only regular time to grab some peace and quiet. And they worked pretty well. Lots of body scans and soporific voices and storytelling or guided meditation with gently babbling brooks or wave-washed beaches. I chilled and got a surprisingly good night's sleep.
But soft voices directing me to various body parts were just the gateway. After exhausting the free options, I needed more variety to calm my busy monkey mind. So I turned to free relaxation and sleep podcasts on Spotify (also on YouTube).
That was when the recommendation engine then started throwing up 'binaural ASMR sleep triggers' – you what now? – and my carriage to the land of nod started to get really weird.
ASMR stands for 'autonomous sensory meridian response'. It is often recorded binaurally with two microphones to give the feeling of being in the room with the audio when you put headphones in.
What is ASMR?
To borrow a better explanation than I can give, the Sleep Doctor site says:
Some of the most common ASMR stimuli involve watching and listening to people performing very simple, ordinary tasks and routines. Folding laundry, turning pages of a book or magazine, brushing hair, and eating are some of the most popular ASMR triggers. Sounds involving water running also can be powerful ASMR triggers. So-called "crisp" sounds, such as the scratching of nails along a hard surface, and the crinkling of plastic are also popular ASMR stimuli. But it's whispering that is the single most common and popular ASMR stimulus.
Close whispering in particular can trigger tingling across the scalp or other pleasurable sensory phenomena. I tried it but got immediately anxious, feeling like the disembodied whispers were a little too close to the inner voices in my head, or maybe it was reprogramming my brain through some crazy Clockwork Orange nightmare.
Sleeping to thunderstorms
Running water though, that worked. And I soon discovered the joys of going to sleep to international thunderstorms recorded in Hawaii, Tokyo, Copenhagen and other exotic locations. They pretty much all sounded the same, just different intensities: gentle rain, hard rain, rumbling thunder, crashing thunder… I went to sleep to all strengths of storm.
In fact, I learnt to sleep to noise so much so that when I didn't put on a noise meditation, I couldn't drop off. The silence was too deafening. Give me a drone, a hum, a rainstorm, white noise from white goods… all these things crowded out my thoughts. More usefully, they stopped the plague of music earworms that often keeps me awake.
Within 10-20 minutes, I was gone, every time.
The weird world of ASMR
The ASMR addiction escalated. What weird thing could I sleep to next? Dehumidifiers, air conditioners, sloshing washing machines and dishwashers? No problem.
Horses at pasture? Atmosphere of the past (old village)? An escalator? Don't mind if I do.
Bubble wrap popping, creaking wooden ship, stamping office documents, relaxing womb noise with slow heartbeat, Tibetan temple, snow crunching? Why the hell not.
My favourite in the end was Spaceship Ambience. It delivered just the right level of white noise and clean, white, minimalist images in my head.
My ASMR experiments came to an end when we bought a dehumidifier to reduce condensation. I also decided to switch from sleep meditations to general pockets of stillness in the day. Which basically involves me staring off into the sky, sunset, flowers, etc, whenever I let the rabbits out for their daily garden run.
I haven't done an ASMR podcast for months. But writing this up, I'm tempted to put one on tonight, for old time's sake. What to choose, what to choose?
Or do I just turn the bathroom fan on?
But seriously I enjoyed my ASMR experiments. And I love the fact that there are listener requests where you can request the sound you want to hear and ASMR podcasters will record it for you. And the romantic in me wonders if, somewhere out there, ASMR nerd boys are making mix tapes/playlists of this stuff for their ASMR nerd girls? I sincerely hope so.