You may not have heard of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response ). It’s described as a response among some people to particular frequencies and repetitive sounds that causes a deep sense of relaxation. Some use it to help concentrate on work such as writing or art work (and there are claims that it promotes creativity), others use it for sleep where intrusive anxieties disturb and disrupt this.
A number of disparate findings, speculations, and under-investigated techniques related to ideas of boredom, relaxation, sleep, and creativity seem to me to be coming together with this phenomenon. All of them appear to impinge on common neurological processes to do with brain connectivity and what’s been called a default network which comes to life when we’re not actively thinking about something and is suppressed by ‘front of head’ cognitive work. I suspect they’re linked and I also suspect oxytocin is involved although this isn’t mentioned – yet. This article from The Conversation discusses boredom; the others come up in separate podcasts in the Seriously series from the BBC. You have to go back a long way – Dec 29th 2015 for Brain Tingles (ASMR and creativity) and 8th Jan 2016 for Work is a Four Letter Word (the default neurological circuitry – it’s in the first 10 minutes or so), but that’s where the collisions can be found, albeit not identified as such.
If ASMR, whatever its underpinnings, has an impact on people – and from the proliferation of online ASMR materials, this would seem to be the case – then there are plenty of videos in different styles and lengths to choose from. For sleep though, there’s a problem because most of these tracks are only in video form via YouTube, which means if you don’t actually want to watch, you can’t stream them just as audio tracks. It’s also not been possible since Amazon excluded Google’s YouTube, to access them via an Alexa device, which had been my first thought as some of the videos run 8-10 hours, covering the whole night – a huge advantage for people with sleep disturbance.
Recently however, I came across an Alexa skill called My Pod which can add links to YouTube videos, and I can confirm that the tracks are accessible via Dots, Echos, and Shows. There’s a free account which allows a limited number of tracks but not play length. For a small donation to the developer, that can be increased. It seems easy to use and, given that you might want to do this via an indistinct mumble from under the duvet at 3 am, that’s important, you do need to name your tracks carefully though! Just a warning, if you run the whole playlist Alexa introduces each track by its title and associated text which might be a jolt at two (and three, and four, and five!) in the morning if your tracks are short.
EDIT: Matt, the developer, says you can turn off track announcements in settings. Go to your account, check ‘Don’t read the title before playing’, job done!
Second edit: access via Alexa failed some months ago and may not now be working.
Here are some links to ASMR videos:
22 ASMR Triggers – no speaking, two hours long.
10 ASMR Triggers – no speaking, 55 minutes.
Spaceship Bedroom Ambience – white noise, no speaking, two hours.
Galactic Star Cruiser– white noise, no speaking, ten hours.
Spaceship Sleep Sounds – white noise, no speaking, eight hours.
Spaceship DEEP Sleep Sounds – white noise, deeper sounds, no speaking, eight hours.
Japanese ASMR– whispering, brushing sounds, 55 minutes.
There are many others; different lengths, some speaking, some not. The quality and range is far better than the available ASMR Alexa skills which are often quite short and occasionally have disturbingly loud speaking voices popping up amongst the whispering, brushing sounds. My Pod is an Alexa skill that bridges the YouTube/Alexa gap very satisfactorily by making the sound accessible via any Echo or Dot, and sound-only via the Show so that there’s no disturbance from the screen. I suspect people on the autistic spectrum might also find ASMR useful and given the extensive range of videos, it should be possible to find something that suits.
Smith, S.D., Fredborg, K.D., and Kornelsen, J. 2017. An examination of the default mode network in individuals with autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). Journal of Social Neuroscience 12, 4. [online] Available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17470919.2016.1188851
Poerio, G. 2020. ASMR: what we know so far about this unique brain phenomenon – and what we don’t. The Conversation. September 15th. [online] Available at https://theconversation.com/asmr-what-we-know-so-far-about-this-unique-brain-phenomenon-and-what-we-dont-135106#comment_2343249