Imagine stepping away from a hectic day into an oasis of calm relaxation. You’re transported away from the hustle and bustle by a moment of pure bliss, experiencing physical “chills” from your head down the back of your neck and an utter sense of calm. Now imagine you can access this feeling any time, simply by watching a video. Sound intriguing?
This is ASMR, the latest wellness and relaxation trend taking the internet by storm. Find out how fans of ASMR are using it to relax deeply, sleep better and improve their mood.
What Is ASMR?
ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, which describes a pleasant, tingling, relaxing sensation that typically starts at the top of your head before traveling down the spine. ASMR is a physical bodily response to an external stimulus, such as listening to a video of someone whispering a bedtime story, hearing the sound of a keyboard clacking or watching someone braid hair.
In a 2015 survey, respondents stated they used ASMR for the following benefits:
- 98% to relax
- 82% to help with sleep
- 70% to deal with stress
When Was ASMR Invented?
Many people who experience ASMR claim to have a lifelong familiarity with this tingling response to certain sights, sounds, smells, or sensations. But there wasn’t a uniformly used name for this response until 2010. This was when Jennifer Allen named the feeling in internet forums to elevate the discussions and help make the condition more mainstream in the eyes of researchers and ASMR-skeptics.
While Allen may have named it, it took another five years for the first peer-reviewed, scientific ASMR study to be conducted and for ASMR to catch the scientific community’s attention.
How Does ASMR Work?
Researchers are still unclear on the exact mechanisms of how ASMR works, but brain imaging technology is starting to paint a clearer picture.
A team of psychologists at the University of London recorded participants’ brain activity when watching ASMR-inducing videos. The researchers found that ASMR was associated with change across multiple brain regions related to sensation, emotion, motor skills, attention, self-awareness, social cognition, and rewards.
What Are ASMR Triggers?
ASMR triggers are the outside stimuli that cause one’s body to react with chills and tingling sensations. A trigger can be a sound, a visual cue, or a physical sensation.
In the survey mentioned above, the most commonly reported ASMR triggers included:
- Sounds: listening to whispering, crunching, or repetitive audio
- Visual cues: watching someone complete a task
- Physical touch: watching physical touch acts like hair brushing, braiding, and massage
- Role play: imagining you’re participating in a relaxing scenario
- Personal attention: experiencing close eye contact, low speaking, and the feeling of being in a 1:1 scenario with the video creator
Types of ASMR
For those who experience ASMR, the exact types of triggers can vary from person to person. Some get chills from sounds, while others react to visual or tactile stimuli. Researchers have identified the most common types of ASMR, which include:
- whispering (75%)
- personal attention (69%)
- crisp sounds (64%)
- slow movements (53%)
- repetitive tasks (34%)
Whispering and crisp sounds (like crinkling a piece of paper or the clear “popping” of consonants) are the most common types of audio ASMR stimuli.
Many audio ASMR fans utilize gentle whispering ASMR bedtime stories for their calming, relaxing, and sleep-inducing effects.
Other popular ASMR audio stimuli include:
- Page turning
- Typing or writing sounds
- Water droplets
Not all ASMR fans are triggered by sound. Many love the sensations that come with watching something visually satisfying.
Visual ASMR videos often focus on the creator’s slow-moving hands as they:
- Trace letters
- Complete a repetitive task, such as decorating a cake or mixing paint
- Throwing pottery on a wheel
- Soap cutting
Physical touch can bring on pleasant, relaxing chills. Think of the last time you got a scalp massage in the shampoo bowl before a haircut. Tactile ASMR videos seek to provoke the same response you get from an in-person tactile experience by watching it on screen.
Tactile ASMR video topics include:
- Head massage
- Hair brushing
- Flipping switches and clicking buttons
- Keyboard clacking
- Softly sweeping makeup brushes
Does ASMR Help You Sleep?
ASMR fans report that watching or listening to ASMR triggers can help with sleep. While conclusive scientific proof of ASMR as a sleep aid has yet to be presented, existing studies do suggest a link between ASMR and better sleep. The best evidence to support ASMR for sleep is anecdotal — 81% of study respondents report using ASMR to help them fall asleep.
Additional Benefits of ASMR
In addition to sleep, ASMR fans report trigger videos to help with relaxation and stress relief. ASMR users report feeling their emotional stress go down while feelings of calmness increase. Interestingly, those affected by ASMR experienced reduced heart rates when experiencing triggers.
ASMR fans report a deeply positive effect on mood when triggered. The 2015 study found that 80% of ASMR respondents reported a positive mood impact and a decrease in levels of sadness. This mood-boosting effect can even last for several hours after the initial stimuli.
Can Relieve Anxiety or Depression
Researchers have found that ASMR may help temporarily ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even chronic pain, which may contribute to its perceived “sleep-enhancing” effects. Depression and anxiety can have an extremely disruptive effect on sleep. Likewise, a lack of sleep can contribute to symptoms of depression.
Disadvantages of ASMR
ASMR is not a panacea or magic pill that works for everyone. One of the disadvantages of ASMR is that it only works on some people. Others are completely unaffected by ASMR.
Some experience the opposite effect — getting irritated or upset by whispering sounds, for example.
Another ASMR disadvantage is the likelihood of becoming desensitized from repeated exposure to a trigger. Some ASMR experts recommend taking time off from your favorite trigger to avoid becoming desensitized and “losing the tingle.”
Why Does ASMR Make You Sleepy?
Aside from promoting relaxation, researchers believe ASMR makes you sleepy by activating theta brain waves and releasing endorphins and neurohormones that support sleep.
Researchers believe that ASMR sounds for sleep share similar characteristics to pink or white noise, which is thought to support sleep by blocking out distracting background noise and by giving your brain something to focus on other than chattery thoughts.
Best ASMR for Sleep
Are you ready to experiment with ASMR to see if it can help you relax more and sleep better?
Additional Relaxation Techniques for Sleep
ASMR doesn’t work for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the same level of relaxation to help you sleep at night.
Relaxation techniques to calm your mind and body before sleep include:
- Progressive muscle relaxation: tensing muscles and relaxing them one-by-one
- Visualizations: imagining peaceful, pleasant scenes
- Gentle, focused breathing: focusing on deep, calm breaths for five minutes
- Enhancing your sleep environment: ensuring your room is comfortable, cool, and dark
- Take a hot bath or shower 1-2 hours before bed: warming your body temperature can help reset your circadian rhythm and signal your body and brain that sleep is coming
- Explore aromatherapy: use essential oils that promote calm and sleep, such as lavender, chamomile, and cedarwood
What does ASMR stand for?
ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. It is a tingling sensation similar to chills that starts at the head and travels down the spine when exposed to certain stimuli, known as triggers.
Is ASMR bad for you?
There have been no reported negative side effects from ASMR. However, if ASMR use is interfering with your ability to sleep, work, or socialize, you should consult a professional and try to reduce your exposure to ASMR.
Why is ASMR so popular?
ASMR is thought to affect about 20% of the population. ASMR is one of the most popular searches on YouTube, and 63% of devotees report watching ASMR daily. Why is it so popular? The most commonly reported benefits of ASMR include relaxation, better mood, and better sleep, so it’s no wonder this trend doesn’t appear to be waning soon.
Does ASMR work for everyone?
ASMR does not work for everyone. As much as 80% of the population is not affected by ASMR. For those unaffected, an ASMR trigger will not elicit the same responses and benefits as those who are.
Does ASMR help with anxiety?
ASMR fans have reported mood-boosting benefits and a temporary reduction in depression and anxiety from ASMR. These reductions in depression and anxiety may help with its sleep benefits, as well.
Does ASMR affect mental health?
ASMR has been shown to reduce heart rates, promote relaxation, support better sleep, and relieve anxiety and depression, all of which can positively affect mental health. If you are considering ASMR for mental health reasons, be sure to consult with a medical professional.