ASMR Sleep Videos: Do They Work?

Isolated neon sign of ASMR logo for decoration and covering on the wall background. ASMR sleep concept.
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    Many adults in the United States aren’t getting enough sleep on a regular basis, according to the CDC. That means much more than waking up feeling foggy or grumpy. In fact, consistent sleep deprivation is linked to increased risk of serious health concerns like diabetes and stroke.[1] That makes sleep deprivation a massive healthcare concern for the country.

    Now, there are plenty of routes people take to get better sleep. Many visit their doctor and receive a prescription for medications that may help, like trazodone or hydroxyzine. Due to high healthcare costs, though, some people opt for over-the-counter sleep aids. Others still try alternative forms of relaxation, like breathing exercises, to induce drowsiness. One notable trend that’s taken the Internet by storm, though, is the rise of ASMR sleep videos.

    What is ASMR?

    An illustration of the route of ASMR’s tingling sensation. Image shows rear view of the head and upper torso. Capable individuals typically experience the sensation as originating at the back of the head, spreading across the scalp and down the back of the neck. Half of participants reported that this sensation typically spreads to the shoulders and back with increasing intensity. Though this diagram represents the most common areas involved in the tingling sensation, there is a huge amount of individual variation in where tingles spread to with increased intensity, with legs and arms also commonly reported as hotspots in some individuals.
    Credit: Emma L. Barratt, Nick J. Davis (CC-BY-4.0)

    ASMR stands for auto sensory meridian response. It is essentially a relaxed, positive sensation or state often accompanied by chills or tingles. Many report that their chills start at the top of the head, then flow down through the spine. Although it is not exactly known what causes the sensation, it seems that the response is triggered by audio and sometimes accompanying visuals. Notably, though, not everyone experiences ASMR. It isn’t currently known why some people can experience ASMR and some don’t. 

    What are ASMR Videos?

    ASMR concept. Female hand holding Head massage brush and earphones. Relaxation and anti stress activities

    ASMR videos are videos designed to trigger the auto sensory meridian response. They often include quiet or crisp sounds that many people consider soothing, along with images of slow, repetitive actions. Another common theme of many of these videos is the creator looking directly into the camera to create eye contact and directly address viewers in a whisper.[2] Some videos even use “alternating binaural auditory stimuli”; in other words, people who use headphones to listen to these videos will notice that the sounds seemingly move back and forth from one earbud to the next.[3]

    The result? These triggers can, in some cases, mimic human conversations and interactions. Videos using alternating binaural sounds may especially help create a sensation of human interaction. Binaural sounds, after all, help add some dimension to a video. In other words, when sound alternates between earbuds, it may trick the brain into thinking the conversation is happening in a 3-D space.[4] This trick subsequently may cause the brain to react to the audio as though it originates not in a distant location, but somewhere nearby. When these binaural sounds are of human voices, it stands to reason that the brain may interpret the audio as the whispering of a nearby human.

    All in all, these triggers may work together to invoke a feeling of interpersonal bonding within the viewer. In other words, these videos use relaxing images, eye contact, and mimicked conversations to create a sense of intimacy and/or connectedness within the viewer.[5,6] Both small and large-scale studies back up this hypothesis. For example, one smaller study found that most participants experienced greater intensity of ASMR tingles when the videos they watched addressed them directly.[7] Another large-scale study of ASMR videos found that the two largest ASMR triggers were whispering and personal attention.[8]

    Can You Use ASMR for Sleep and Stress?

    Microphone and cracker sound - Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response

    Many people do. In fact, a study of 475 participants revealed that 98% used ASMR specifically for relaxation purposes, 82% for sleep, and 70% for stress.[9] Just how does ASMR calm someone down, though?

    The truth is, no one really knows how ASMR works. There are, however, several hypotheses for why certain videos may trigger this response in some people.

    As discussed above, research suggests that ASMR videos may instill in some people a sense of connection, bonding, and intimacy. Notably, human bonding releases chemicals like oxytocin,[10] which can create a mental and physical sense of calm. Likewise, research shows that listening to binaural beats may alleviate anxiety for some people.[11]

    How Does ASMR Affect the Body?

    Studies show that those who watch ASMR videos aren’t just experiencing a placebo effect, either; people who experience ASMR really do undergo physiological changes. These physiological responses include reduced heart rate and increased skin conductance.[12] Notably, these responses support the idea that ASMR-triggering videos may be good tools for reducing stress and promoting positive mood.

    How? Let’s break it down.

    Firstly, stress can increase the heart rate, and decreased stress levels are associated with reduced heart beat. So, if a video can reduce heart rate, it might help someone feel more calm.

    Secondly, skin conductance also hints at ASMR’s ability to influence people positively. Now, skin conductance, also known as electrodermal activity (EDA) or galvanic skin response (GSR), refers to biochemical changes of the skin. Notably, these complex changes occur unconsciously, and research suggests they occur in relation to experiencing certain emotions. In other words, GSR is an emotionally triggered physiological response.[13] So, if ASMR can trigger GSR for some people, that implies that ASMR itself is tied to an emotional response.

    Why Do People Like ASMR?

    Young Woman Recording ASMR Sounds On Microphone

    Research and self-reporting show that ASMR can create positive feelings and relaxation in many people. For some, that may help them fall asleep or calm them down. Relaxation and better sleep? It’s not hard to see why people would seek out ASMR-triggering videos.

    People may also like ASMR because it seems to be linked to strong memories.[14] For many people who experience ASMR, those memories are positive. In other words, people may unconsciously link triggers in ASMR videos to positive sights and sounds from their childhood, which may in turn create a happy, nostalgic feeling.

    Not everyone who reacts to ASMR videos reacts positively, though. No one really knows why someone may experience a negative reaction to these videos, either. Some experts postulate that some people may link ASMR to unhappy childhood memories; this link may cause an unconscious negative backlash against the videos.[15] Others speculate that those who dislike ASMR videos may have misophonia, the intense dislike or even hatred of certain sounds.

    So, Can ASMR Videos Help You Fall Asleep?

    Do ASMR sleep videos work? Research suggests that yes, ASMR does work for some people, and it’s not just from a placebo effect. However, no one really knows how ASMR works, nor why it only works for some people. So, for those who struggle to relax or sleep, ASMR videos might be worth exploring.

    5 Best ASMR Sleep Videos

    Looking for some ASMR sleep videos to try right away? Below are five videos that may induce the auto sensory meridian response.

    1. 100 Triggers For Sleep, Relaxation & Study. Tapping, Scratching…

    3 hours of crisp sounds and relaxed visuals? You’ve got it.

    2. Jelly Stickers for YOUR Triggers

    Do you enjoy lots of whispering and eye contact? Yes? Then this video might be for you. If you don’t enjoy lots of eye contact and whispering, though, avoid this video at all costs.

    3. More Deep Ear Attention For You ~

    Gibi ASMR’s video features lots of eye contact, whispering, tapping, and sound that jumps back and forth between earbuds. All in all, it’s filled with popular triggers.

    4. Strange ASMR

    MassageASMR makes this video with more unorthodox tools. Specifically, he uses objects like massage tools and rubber ducks to create potential triggers.

    5. The Joy of Painting

    From the official Bob Ross YouTube channel, this hour-long special from The Joy of Painting is filled with relaxing sights, sounds, and happy little trees. Considering some people experience ASMR while watching Bob Ross, why not give The Joy of Painting a shot?

    Final Thoughts

    ASMR sleep videos might seem like hocus pocus at first, but research suggests that it really can relax some people. So, those who are looking for a fun new way to chill out might try watching one of these videos. However, experts still don’t know exactly what causes ASMR, how it works, or why some people experience it and others don’t.

    Disclaimers: This article is not to replace professional medical advice.

    Terms

    • ASMR (auto sensory meridian response): A relaxed sensation usually accompanied by tingles. It seems to be triggered by audio-visual stimuli.
    • Binaural: Relating to the use of both ears.
    • Galvanic skin response (GSR): An emotionally triggered physiological response relating to the skin and sweat glands.
    • Misophonia: The intense dislike or hatred of certain sounds.

    References

    [2,8,9]Barratt, E. L., & Davis, N. J. (2015). Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state. PeerJ, 3, e851. doi:10.7717/peerj.851

    [10]Bosch, O. J., & Young, L. J. (2018). Oxytocin and Social Relationships: From Attachment to Bond Disruption. Current topics in behavioral neurosciences, 35, 97–117. doi:10.1007/7854_2017_10

    [1]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html

    [4,11]Chaieb, L., Wilpert, E. C., Reber, T. P., & Fell, J. (2015). Auditory beat stimulation and its effects on cognition and mood States. Frontiers in psychiatry, 6, 70. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2015.00070

    [13]Farnsworth, B. (2018). What is GSR (galvanic skin response) and how does it work? iMotions. Retrieved from https://imotions.com/blog/gsr/

    [5,12,14,15]Poerio, G.L., Blakey, E., Hostler, T.J., & Veltri, T. (2018). More than a feeling: Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is characterized by reliable changes in affect and physiology. PLOS ONE, 13(6): e0196645 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0196645

    [6]Richard, C. (n.d.) Origin Theory of ASMR. Retrieved from https://asmruniversity.com/origin-theory-of-asmr/

    [3,7]Smith, S.D., Fredborg, K.B., & Kornelsen, J. (2017). An examination of the default mode network in individuals with autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). Social neuroscience, 12(4):361-365. DOI: 10.1080/17470919.2016.1188851

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