The first major reason can be summarized as “internal stimuli”. Your brain is receiving stimulatory signals due to things happening inside your body. This may include stressful thoughts due to reflecting on the day’s events, signals of physical pain due to an injury or chronic disorder, or altered chemical balances due to ingestion or exposure to medications, drugs, diet, or toxins earlier in the day.
The second major reason can be summarized as “external stimuli”. Your brain is receiving stimulatory signals due to things happening outside your body. This may include high or low temperatures, strange or threatening smells, physical stimulation of an uncomfortable mattress or a bug bite, or noises coming from inside or outside your immediate sleeping environment.
This last reason, noises, may be the most common type of external stimuli which inhibit us from easily falling asleep.
A new study published in a top science journal, offers an additional explanation of why this is, and may also indicate another reason why ASMR may be so helpful to falling asleep.
A new study in the journal Nature, demonstrates that the sensitivity of our hearing is altered by our movements. The new finding is that when we make more movements we are able to hear less than when we make less movements.
Visualize the classic moment of walking through the woods and then suddenly hearing a strange sound. The first thing you would probably do is to stop moving. This is for the obvious reason of not making noise to attract a potential predator and also to stop making noises so you can hear the strange sound better.
The new study in the journal Nature now adds a third important reason. Decreasing our movements results in our hearing becoming more sensitive, this is an important interplay between an internal change and external stimuli.
This increased sensitivity of our hearing is quite valuable when trying to locate the auditory source of a predator. However, this may be one of the reasons why noises so easily disturb us when trying to fall asleep.
Our bodies have their least movements during falling asleep, therefore this probably results in our most sensitive hearing. This increased sensitivity is logical because we are most defenseless to predators while asleep so being on alert was important for survival.
But for most of us today, we don’t need to worry about bears sneaking up on us while we are falling asleep. Our modern day problem is that our sensitive hearing while falling asleep can still pick up an unexpected house creak, wind howl, car horn, or voice outside and register it as a threat…and keep us awake.
Devices that generate white noise (e.g. fans) or falling asleep with the TV on may help people to fall asleep because they generate expected sounds and hide these unexpected noises which the brain interprets as threats.
It would be interesting for some scientists to do research studies that compare listening to white noise to listening to ASMR-style recordings while falling asleep. I would hypothesize that listening to ASMR-style recordings should be more helpful because they not only hide external noises, but also induce a relaxing sensation in the brain.
In summary, the increased sensitivity of your hearing while falling asleep becomes a part of the solution to you falling asleep if you listen to ASMR-style recordings, rather than being a part of the problem to you falling asleep.
Click HERE to read a summary of the journal article (includes direct link to journal article)
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