ASMR—or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response—has become a phenomenon. ASMR videos have been popular on YouTube for a few years now, and, more recently, their popularity has skyrocketed on TikTok, where over 215 billion videos are currently tagged with #ASMR. But what is it? What are the benefits? And can you use ASMR to help improve your sleep?
There’s some evidence that ASMR can help individuals fall asleep fast, sleep better, and for longer. We looked into the claims with the help of sleep experts. An estimated 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems, according to research from the Center For Disease and Prevention. While in the UK, studies show that one in five adults struggle to get to sleep at least once a week. Those aged between 45 and 54 seem to have the most trouble, with over half of the UK adults reporting sleep issues belonging to that demographic. Could something as simple as watching a soothing video before bed provide the answer?
What is ASMR and how does it work?
ASMR is a term used to describe an experience of a tingling, calming sensation experienced by some people as a result of particular audio or visual stimuli. The tingling sensation begins at the top of the head and descends down the spine. Also known as a 'brain massage', ASMR is often used to help people drift off to sleep and is triggered by passive, relaxing sounds such as crackles, whispers, and certain accents.
ASMR affects individuals differently. Some people will experience the calming sensation, while others may never feel anything. For some, the physical tingle is intense, while others will feel a sense of relaxation and contentment wash over them. Individuals also respond to different triggers—and there are videos out there to cater to almost every preference, including lights, patterns, tones of voice, and tapping sounds. A popular form of ASMR on TikTok is listening and watching individuals restock their fridge and kitchen cupboards.
Some people say ASMR is life-changing. Tori is better known by her TikTok handle RestfulRambles ASMR and has experienced the positive impact of ASMR videos firsthand. Tori began watching ASMR videos to help her sleep at night and had assumed it would be similar to mindfulness techniques, sleep-guided meditation, or sleep hypnosis videos. “When I met my husband back in 2014, he told me he watched 'sleep videos' before bed,” she says. “I searched ASMR on YouTube and found a video of a man carving and staining a piece of wood, while speaking softly with a deep voice.” Tori has been running her ASMR video account since January 2021 and now has over 900,000 followers on the app with further views on the Restful Rambles YouTube page.
Types of ASMR
There are six main types of triggers that induce the tingling sensation. These are:
- Sounds—for example, whispering, soft voices, tapping, blowing scratching, typing
- Visuals—for example, gentle movements, mixing paint
- Eating—for example, watching and listening to people swallow or chew food
- Crushing—for example, objects such as sponges or materials like sand and paste being compressed
- Roleplay—for example, when the viewer is put into a relaxing situation such as visiting a spa
- Touch—for example, hair playing, massage, or drawing shapes on the skin
What are the benefits of ASMR?
While research into the benefits of ASMR is still in its infancy, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence on the positive impact of ASMR on sleep and general wellbeing. ASMR helps your brain to begin a physiological process of winding down during your bedtime routine, slowing down your thoughts, and focusing your attention. For Tori, ASMR is a form of meditation, which she likens to the experience of listening to the rain falling.
Stephanie Romiszewski, a Consultant Physiologist and Director of the Sleepyhead Clinic, explains that the benefits of ASMR include, “To reduce the heart rate, reduce the temperature, relax your mind. [ASMR] helps you use different areas of the brain rather than that one-dimensional area of a thousand thoughts a minute.”
ASMR for sleep—could it help you drift off?
As a relaxation technique, ASMR can help with sleep and maintain good sleep hygiene. Tori recollects the profound impact watching an ASMR video before bed had on her sleep.“Within minutes, I felt my eyelids getting heavy,” she says of her first ASMR experience. She adds, “I am always discovering new 'triggers' that make me sleepy, like lights, tapping, and personal attention. I watch these videos every night and I found myself wanting to create videos that combine all of my favorite methods/triggers.”
ASMR not only improved the duration and quality of Tori’s sleep, but the rate at which she would drift off too. “ASMR definitely helps me get to sleep faster,” she says. “It helps my brain shut off at the end of the day. Sometimes I even turn it on to listen while I brush my teeth and get ready for bed. I have also noticed myself falling into a deeper sleep after a video.”
Individuals who already have a good sleeping pattern may benefit from watching ASMR right before bed, instead of scrolling through their phone or watching TV. Sleep expert Romiszewski adds, “I do feel ASMR is a fantastic tool to help people wind down quickly and to reduce anxiety and stress, which can proactively help avoid sleep problems (if you don’t already have them).”
However, if you struggle with long-term sleep problems such as difficulty getting to sleep, sleep anxiety, or maintaining sleep throughout the night, ASMR is not able to cure this behavior. “When people have sleep problems for longer than a couple of months, what is really happening is they're going through a habitual response from the body,” says Romiszewski.
To address this learned behavior and form a new sleep pattern, Romiszewski suggests seeking out Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, a behavioral treatment to target the underlying causes of the sleep problem. ASMR will still be a relaxing experience for those who struggle severely with sleep by reducing their anxiety and stress, but it will not fix the entire problem.
The best ASMR videos for sleep on YouTube
If you are interested in ASMR, there are plenty of places to start. Along with her own successful videos, Restful Rambles, Tori recommends seeking out videos by GraceV, Lily Whispers ASMR, Gentle Whispering ASMR, and Karuna Satori ASMR all of which have amassed thousands of followers from creating their own unique audiovisual experience.
1. GraceV Neighborhood Gossip and Drink
2. ASMR Getting You Ready for Bed
3. Sleep-inducing Haircut
4. ASMR Mapping, Plucking, Shaping Eyebrows
Jess Bacon is a freelance journalist, blogger and former editor with over six years of writing experience. As a screenwriter and journalist, Jess is keen to tell her own and other people’s stories through words, photos and film. She’s passionate about discussing young people's mental health, grief and feminism in life and how it's portrayed in the media, film and literature. Alongside her by-lines at renowned publications, Jess regularly speaks at charity events and festival panels about loss, mental health and Marvel. Along with her love of writing, Jess is an avid reader, spin enthusiast and dog-lover.
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