Prime Meridian

Author: Kirsten K., Wellness

I recently wrote about my experience with grapheme → color synesthesia. A couple of years ago, my friend Mika and I were discussing the condition and she told me about an odd sensory phenomenon (which she dubbed “little fingers, big tongue”) that she had experienced since childhood. She asked if I’d ever felt unusual physical sensations that might fall under the heading of synesthesia. I replied, somewhat sheepishly, that I had.

For as long as I can remember, whenever I observe a person deeply involved in something (e.g. playing an instrument, doing a routine task, demonstrating an activity) or hear the sound of certain voices, I feel a kind of pleasurable, tingling sensation in the back of my neck. It seems to originate from deep within my brain stem and radiates outward to the rest of my body, putting me in a somnolent, blissed-out state.

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Maria from GentleWhispering describes ASMR and demonstrates some common triggers in this welcome video on her YouTube channel.

Last year, I happened to be watching an episode of Nightline that featured a woman whose YouTube videos were designed to trigger this exact sensation in her viewers. Once again, a news program had given me the name for my condition: ASMR—Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. The term was coined in 2010 to describe the euphoric sensation that many individuals experience in response to encountering particular stimuli.

Maria from GentleWhispering has achieved a large following on YouTube by filming herself engaged in role playing and making certain sounds—notably, whispering—that have been found to trigger ASMR. From the moment I heard her speak on TV, I began to feel the tingles in the back of my neck. I started watching her videos and discovered ASMR triggers that I never knew I had, such as tapping and various types of hand movements.

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Viewers flock to Heather Feather for her large library of ASMR videos. Her Ultimate Head and Scalp Massage has me floating on air.

In those first few weeks, I spent hours on YouTube going from one video to the next. I was like a teenage boy discovering porn for the first time, but—though Kirsti accused me of having a fetish—there is nothing sexual about the sensations produced by ASMR. They have been referred to as “braingasms,” but the closest comparison I can make is the feeling you get when someone lightly tickles your back or plays with your hair.

Many self-described ASMRtists use a 3Dio binaural microphone, which provides crystal clear, ear-to-ear sound that can lead to major tingles. A large percentage of the videos are designed to help people go to sleep, but I have no trouble falling and staying asleep. In fact, I try to avoid watching ASMR videos before bed, because I’m unconscious within minutes and can miss out on some choice endorphins.

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Cutebunny992 pulled a rabbit out of her hat with this magical role playing video that causes tingles to materialize and stress to disappear.

GentleWhispering may be the grande dame of ASMRtists, but there are several up-and-comers who are making waves—and tingles—with their innovative videos. To an outsider, though, some of these videos can seem either mind-numbingly boring or totally bizarre. Even as I’m riveted by watching someone stroke stacks of fabric or pretend to examine my ears, I’ll occasionally think to myself, “This is deeply weird…and so are you.” But then I return to my regularly scheduled programming. When people ask me if I’ve seen the latest season of The Walking Dead or Orange Is the New Black, I respond, “No, but I just binged-watched all the episodes of Heather Feather, Cutebunny992, and Fairy Char.”

Unlike synesthesia, it is believed that anyone can experience ASMR, which may explain why these videos have exploded in popularity over the past couple of years. (Proof that ASMR has gone mainstream is this hilarious spoof that Daniel Tosh made for a recent episode of Tosh.0.) If you haven’t experienced ASMR for yourself, give it some time and view different types of videos to discover if there are triggers that work for you. I often get my best tingles after watching for 20 minutes or more, and a video that works one day can be less effective on another, so I like to skip around.

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A sprinkle of pixie dust from Fairy Char casts a spell as she uses a binaural microphone to give viewers a virtual “braincase” massage.

While I no longer watch for hours on end, I try to indulge on a regular basis to keep myself sane and stress-free. I now consider ASMR videos to be an essential part of my wellness regimen. With thousands of videos online and more being posted every day, you’ll often find me staring raptly at my computer screen—but if you want to get my attention, remember to whisper.

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To learn more about 3Dio binaural microphones, click here.


Dream On

Author: Kirsten K., Wellness

Dream On 1There are few things in life more swoon-worthy—literally—than a full night of delicious sleep. Waking up naturally before my alarm goes off or on a weekend morning with no agenda gives me a deep sense of well-being. One of my least favorite sayings is: “You can sleep when you’re dead.” No, I can sleep when I’m tired, thank you very much. I’ve always thought it was counterintuitive to ignore your body when it’s asking for rest, and now there’s abundant evidence to back me up.

For a documentary on sleep, the film Sleepless in America from National Geographic Channel is a real eye-opener. Made in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, the movie lays out the alarming facts: lack of sleep is the primary contributing factor in many automobile and occupational accidents and can dramatically increase a person’s risk of developing obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. People seem to view sleep as a luxury, rather than a necessity, and even take pride in their ability to burn the candle at both ends, but the consequences of sleep deprivation to our health and safety—and the safety of others—are dire.

Dream On 2However, I’ll leave it to the film to scare the pajamas off you. We Society members like to write about things that make us swoon, so let’s flip the script. Getting the proper amount of sleep each night is worthy of our notice because it:*

  • helps you to stay alert during the day so that work is more fulfilling and fun, leading to that coveted promotion.
  • improves memory and the ability to process and retain new information, making you a more interesting person.
  • strengthens your immune system, so you can turn sick days into play days and potentially add years to your life.
  • allows your body to restore, repair, and rejuvenate, transforming you into a sleeping beauty (or a handsome hibernator).
  • makes you more pleasant to be around, attracting friends and lovers.
  • feels wonderful—do you need another reason?
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Many historians believe that, before electric lighting, people used to sleep in two phases of 4-5 hours (first sleep and second sleep) separated by a short interval of wakefulness (the watch).

Of course, I know that there are people who work multiple jobs or have life circumstances that prevent them from getting the sleep they need, but they are probably not reading this blog (and if they are—stop and go to bed!). Those people should check out this short TED talk by Kirk Parsley, a doctor, former Navy SEAL, and father of three who discusses the importance of sleep and how to make it a priority in your life.

There are also people who want to sleep, but have trouble falling or staying asleep. Sleepless in America states that 70 million Americans suffer from some form of insomnia. According to the film, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) involves four basic steps:

  1. Reduce your time in bed.
  2. Get up at the same time every day (no matter how much you slept the night before).
  3. Don’t get in bed unless you’re sleepy.
  4. Don’t stay in bed unless you’re asleep.

By following these steps (in conjunction with medication, when necessary), many insomnia sufferers are able to fall and stay asleep on a regular basis, allowing them to get the rest they need.** Given the claim by some fitness and nutrition experts that proper sleep is more important than food and exercise to a person’s overall health and well-being, insomnia isn’t something that can be ignored.

If time is money, you can’t afford to miss this movie, because you can shortchange sleep, but you’ll pay one way or another in loss of productivity, health, and quality of life. Sleep is free, but it yields both short- and long-term dividends, so write yourself a check for eight hours a night—EVERY night—and dream on.

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Sleepless in America


You can purchase the DVD of Sleepless in America in the National Geographic store or watch the full-length documentary online at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. If you’re short on time, have a look at this “cheat sheet.”

*These claims have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, but they have been validated by the Fabulous Day Association (aka “me”).

**For more Sleep Tips for Insomnia Sufferers, visit the National Sleep Foundation.

Find Your ZZZen

Author: Kirsten K., Wellness
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Zen Alarm Clock® in Burgundy

The weekend is almost here, and for most people this means the chance to sleep in without being rudely awakened by an alarm clock. I have written before about the fact that I’m not a morning person. Rising to wakefulness—even after a full night of sleep—can often feel like clawing my way up from the abyss, so the blare of an alarm in the midst of deep slumber is particularly jarring. In a case of Pavlovian conditioning, any time I hear a sound resembling that of an alarm clock, my heart begins to race and I feel a sense of panic. Just this week, I heard about a woman who wore her Fitbit to bed and found that her resting heart rate of 60 beats per minute leapt to 102 when she was jolted awake by her alarm. That’s no way to greet the day!

I pride myself on being punctual, but I’ve slept through my share of alarms. In high school, it was my father’s duty to be my second line of defense. He would come in my room to get me up after my alarm had either stopped on its own or I’d turned it off and promptly fallen back to sleep. Then he’d softly call to me and I’d assure him that I was awake…until I’d actually wake up five minutes before it was time to leave the house with no memory of our conversation, yelling at him as I ran out the door for falling down on the job.

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Zen Timepiece® in New Bamboo

As a night owl who comes alive when the sun goes to sleep, I’ve managed to find employment at a number of jobs over the years where my workday begins in the late morning or early afternoon and ends in prime time, but I still need a gentle “reminder” to get up most days. Fortunately, I discovered a clock that allows me to arrive at work on time while maintaining my Zen.

Now & Zen started producing their miraculous alarm clocks and timers 20 years ago “to make a real difference in people’s lives.” Judging by my personal experience, they have succeeded. Their clocks feature either a brass bowl on a wooden base or an acoustic chime set within a hinged or triangular case. When the alarm is triggered, a gong gently strikes the bowl or chime, causing a soothing tone to resonate. Over the course of 10 minutes, the gong strikes with increasing frequency until it reaches an interval of five seconds—the terminal cycle—when it will chime continuously until the alarm is turned off.

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Digital Zen Alarm Clock® in Walnut

I have owned Now & Zen clocks since the late 1990s and I don’t know how I could have survived all these years without them. My first was the original Zen Alarm Clock®, but I eventually upgraded to the digital version for its compact form and added features. It is available in a 7-inch case with a B tone chime, but I sprang for the slightly larger 9-inch version that emits an E tone. Both offer the same progressive awakening feature, where the chiming advances according to the golden ratio*. An aspect of sacred geometry, this ratio is reflected in nature as a logarithmic spiral, such as that found in a chambered nautilus. Now & Zen uses an image of a nautilus shell on its clocks to illustrate this relationship.

Find Your ZZZen 4Even with a peaceful summons to waking life, I still hedge my bets by placing the clock across the room so that I have to get out of bed to turn it off—there is no snooze button, so the danger exists of shutting the alarm off only to fall back asleep. I usually set the clock to strike three minutes before I want to get up. The first chime tickles my consciousness, so I’m already starting to awaken by the time the second chime sounds 3 ½ minutes later. On occasion, I’ve slept through the first two or three chimes, but I’m always up and out of bed before it reaches the five-second interval. Since using these clocks, the only times I’ve overslept were during a power outage or when I’ve forgotten to set the alarm (it happens).

Through the years, people have suggested I try other alarm clocks with gradual awakening features, such as a lamp that gets increasingly brighter to simulate the sunrise, but I’ve never found a reason to switch. In addition to a progressive alarm, Now & Zen clocks have interval, countdown, and meditation timers (demonstrated in these product videos) and can run on batteries or plug into an AC jack. They also come in a variety of styles, woods, and finishes. With all these choices, it’s easy to find your ZZZen.

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Now & Zen


*The progression of chime strikes is explained in detail on the company’s website and in their instructional booklets.