Aug 10, 2023 etc
It’s 12.37am and I am, as my Mum used to say, ‘hyper’.
I’ve had a shower, I’ve journalled, I’ve had a chamomile tea, I’ve done everything right — but, alas, no sleep for me.
It’s time to pull out the big guns. I bring up YouTube on my laptop.
“It’s not sexual,” I tell myself for the millionth time as I click into ‘Caring Girlfriend Tucks You Into Bed (Soft Spoken)’. I watch as a beautiful woman speaks softly to the camera, rubs the lens gently with a face cloth, taps on items in her bedroom with her long and beautifully painted nails. I feel nothing. ‘Caring Girlfriend Tucks You Into Bed (Soft Spoken)’ doesn’t do it for me any more. I wish it did. But I gotta move on to the harder stuff.
I scroll through the suggested videos, and ‘Fast And Chaotic Cranial Nerve Exam Everything Is Wrong (Toxic)’ pops up. This is promising. I click into it. In this video, another beautiful woman is armed with various pieces of medical equipment. I am not quite sure how she procured them — I’m confident she’s not a real doctor — but none- theless I watch with interest as she wildly and aggressively performs a series of tests on me in order to determine if my cranial nerves are working as they should be. They are not. As the video suggests, everything is wrong. Also, she is mean to me. I start to feel my body relaxing. I have taken a significant step towards Sleepy Town, population me. It is working.
Autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, is a term used to describe a static-y, tingly feeling elicited through visual or auditory stimuli. It’s a pleasant feeling; it can make people feel relaxed and sleepy; and it’s huge on YouTube. There are millions of ASMR videos out there, ranging in quality from creators sitting on their bedroom floor tapping on a hairbrush, to feature-film-worthy offerings, complete with sets, storylines and exquisite theming. (Shout out here to Moonlight Cottage ASMR, which regularly mounts full-scale productions complete with historically accurate props and costuming.) It’s all good stuff and it doesn’t really matter whether you’re armed with a tape measure and a notebook or a vintage Victorian shaving kit. (Honestly, Moonlight Cottage, where are you finding this stuff?) ASMR videos rake in millions of views, many of them coming from me. I have been watching ASMR videos since 2013, back when there were only a handful of creators regularly churning out that tingly content.
I have never been a good sleeper. It started when I was a baby. My parents used to put me down to sleep and then run to the bedroom to catch as many Zs as they could before I inevitably woke up again an hour later. They thought I would grow out of it. I didn’t. When I was a toddler, my mum would regularly enter my bedroom to find me standing up in my cot, completely silent and wide awake, staring at her demonically like Damien from The Omen. Although this was undoubtedly unsettling, that behaviour quickly became the good old days. Once I learned to walk and talk I would stumble into my parents’ bedroom at 1am, shake them awake and announce, “I had a bad dream!” One of them, ever patient, would then take their pillow and go and sleep in my child’s single bed, leaving me to take their spot in the primary bedroom. (Have fun with that one, Freud!) Eventually, they just put a mattress on the floor of their room. At some point in the night, I would trail down with my duvet, and my parents would wake in the morning to find me at the end of their bed like a little cock-blocking dog. The system was preferable to me shaking them awake every night, but is also most likely the reason I have only one sibling. Eventually, they figured out that I would continue to use the mattress indefinitely if it remained on offer, so they took it away. They also tried bribery, offering me all kinds of pretty rewards (a trip to McDonald’s, a new Goosebumps book) if I remained in my room all night, every night, for a week. My Goosebumps collection remained sparse and my Happy Meal toy collection meagre.
When I said that I ‘had a bad dream’, I was not lying. I was terrified. I would lie awake in a state of abject terror, convinced that every creak was the step of a murderer en route to my room to kill me. I tried to think reassuring thoughts, such as the fact that the people who were statistically most likely to murder me were actually my parents themselves, but this didn’t do the trick. Interestingly, I was not scared if there was anyone else sleeping in the room with me, even if that someone was my five-year-old sister who could do little to defend me against a full-size murderer. I used to think it was so unfair that adults, who never got scared, got to sleep together, whereas kids, who got scared all the time, had to sleep alone. Eventually, I resigned myself to my fate and would lie awake for most of the night until the alarm went off at 6.30am, signalling that I had to get up for my 7.30am choir practice. (I was pretty intense about choir for a while there.)
Now my anxieties are less murder-based and more focused on the crushing weight of being alive, but I still can’t sleep. My need for ASMR is becoming increasingly intense and I can’t doze off without first seeing a woman (beautiful) furiously scratching at a camera with a plastic comb. ‘Fast And Chaotic Cranial Nerve Exam Everything Is Wrong (Toxic)’ ends and I’m still not ready for sleep. I click into the next video, ‘Popular Girl (Sweet) Plays With Your Hair At The Back Of Class’. “It’s not sexual,” I tell myself for the billionth time and hope that soon Sleepy Town will gain a new resident.
This story was published in Metro N°439.