ASMR for Kids: An Unexpected Sleep Aid
If you’re familiar with ASMR, then you are probably also familiar with the awkward soft talking, breathy YouTube hosts who touch various objects sensuously into a microphone. If you’re not familiar with ASMR, the acronym stands for Autonomous sensory meridian response. This is the phenomenon of creating low grade euphoria through gentle auditory and visual (and sometimes physical) sensory stimulation like whispering or listening to the soft sounds of the bristles on a hair brushed being raked over gently by fingertips. The best I can describe it is that tingly feeling you get when someone tickles the inside of your forearm. I love that feeling. If you’re still scratching your head, check out some of my favorites from TingTing ASMR on YouTube. (Note: I don’t listen to ASMR often, and to be honest, sometimes it does feel a little too sensual. However, TingTing has fantastic videos that have helped me to fall asleep when I’m really struggling.)
The other day I was putting my older son to sleep and I realized this could be a great way to help him fall asleep. Like any five year old, he struggles to quench his excited energy before bed to get himself to a place of calm so he can relax into sleep. Also, like any five year old, he struggles with nightmares from time to time. So I decided, why not? It couldn’t hurt to try ASMR to help him fall asleep. I didn’t break out the hair brushes and other props, I just started small. Normally I sing him a few songs once he’s tucked into bed. This night, however, I decided to ASMR some songs. What does that mean? It means I slowed the tempo waaaaay down - probably down to 50% - and whispered the melody quietly in his ear.
After a few nights of doing this I was getting ready for bed myself one night when my husband commented, “You really have a way with him lately. He’s fast asleep.” That validation was all I needed. I told my husband my secret and he seemed impressed, especially because the week prior was fairly heavy laden with nightmares for our little guy. Finally it seemed he was getting some relief and some deep, relaxing sleep.
As my excitement grew about this new found ASMR sleep miracle, I did also try incorporating some gentle touches into the bedtime routine. I would slowly tickle his arm or softly comb through his hair with my fingers. He did not like it. He would swat my hand away like an annoying gnat on a hot summer day. OK, point taken. I went back to the basics with my slow whisper ASMR songs and he rewarded me with sleepy smiles as he soothed himself to sleep.
Whether or not you buy into the ASMR hype or think it’s a pile of hooey, there are some lessons to be gleaned here. For me, I realized that the transition from playtime (or dinner time or daddy time) was the key to a good night sleep. Just like the First Law of Motion states, "A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion unless it is acted upon by an external force." You need to be that external force. Not literally, but you know what I mean. Little bodies need help to transition from the active movement of their day to the slow, calm stillness of bedtime. So what are you doing right before bed? Playing? Eating? Or are you doing a calm, soothing bath and some quiet reading? The moments before you transition will help the process go a lot more smoothly.
The other thing I learned was the same thing I learned while training our new puppy: “excitement travels down the leash.” Kids will feed off whatever energy you’re dishing up. Are you rushed when tucking them in? Stressed? Preoccupied? All of that travels down to the little person trying to fall asleep. As hard as this is for me to do, personally, I work very hard to enter the bedroom (and the sleep transition) with tranquility. If I’m excited to blog after he’s asleep or stressed about the pile of dishes I still have to do, I leave that outside the door. I listen intently to every word he says and try to have a slow, respectful conversation with him. Another thing I do to work at being present is focus on him. His hair. His eyes. His smile. I feel myself sitting beside him. I force my mind to think about what’s right in front of me, and that instantly slows me down. Once I’m in a calm, present position, the rest is easy - and actually enjoyable.
I hope you’ve gotten some hope or excitement or ideas for your own bedtime routine from this little post. If you did, please comment below. I’d love to hear it. And if you have other tips and tricks for getting little ones calm before bed, please share those too. We’re all in this together!