Wander on over to YouTube and you just might see a video of someone scooping sand into a pile with an ice cream scoop. And then you realize that video has racked up 50 million views! These videos fall into ASMR territory, where numbers that impressive are not uncommon.
Autonomous sensory meridian response is a sensation that some people experience when listening to certain sounds or watching certain visual cues. You may have experienced a sensation of tingling or goosebumps when listening to a particularly moving piece of music or a powerful speech, but those who experience ASMR get a similar feeling from clear, quiet noises.
What is ASMR?
People who experience ASMR—roughly 60% of people have some response and 20% have a strong response—describe it as a feel-good, tingling sensation in their scalp that spreads down the body into the shoulders, back, arms, and legs.
It’s not just in your head—according to one study from 2018, participants who self-identified as experiencing ASMR showed reduced heart rates and increased skin sensitivity. The sounds and videos that trigger ASMR will vary from one individual to the next, but often include one or both of the following:
- Personal attention: These videos typically involve role-play, ranging from a person whispering a conversation into a microphone to the sound of hair being brushed.
- Repetitive activity: These include actions like tapping fingers, turning pages, running a paintbrush over paper, crinkling paper, folding laundry, stirring food, and so on.
Sounds tend to be quiet and crisp, with special attention paid to the recording quality of the sounds involved. If someone speaks during the video, it’s usually in the form of a whisper.
Certain ASMR media can be quite polarizing. Those that include chewing or slimy objects moving around can be very unpleasant whereas others enjoy them.
How Can ASMR Videos Help You?
There isn’t much scientific study behind this phenomenon even though it's been growing in popularity online since about 2010. Whether you feel the tingling and warmth associated with an ASMR response or not, there are several instances where listening to an ASMR video or audio piece could help you sleep and/or reduce stress. Too often, we go straight from exciting TV shows, writing research papers, or scrolling on our phones and head to bed—but it takes time for our bodies and minds to calm down. ASMR can help some people with that transition. In a related fashion, people who watch ASMR videos have reported that it can help distract from mild-to-moderate pain long enough to get some much-needed sleep.
The best way to know if ASMR can help you is to just try it! There are thousands of ASMR-themed videos on YouTube and TikTok that feature a variety of different techniques so you can find the style or technique that’s most effective for you.
It’s often recommended to listen to ASMR videos with high-quality headphones rather than speakers, if you have them. ASMR videos are often intended to sound like it’s being made very close to your ears, and headphones will enhance this sensation. Headphones will also help block external sound, though it’s a good idea to find a quiet room as well.
If you have trouble falling asleep, suffer from stress or pain, or simply want to experiment with this new sensation, give ASMR a try!