People swear that listening to the faint noises and whispers relieves tension and puts them to sleep.
But does Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, known as ASMR and gaining popularity on YouTube and TikTok, really help you sleep?
Experts express some hesitation, mainly due to a lack of documented evidence, but note it could be a way to quiet the mind or induce calm.
“There appears to be potential for ASMR to help people manage stress and mood, with the greatest potential for those experiencing the reaction,” wrote Tyler Grove, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School , in an email.
It could be an effective coping strategy, but it may not be for everyone, continued Grove, who has felt the tingles starting with a class guest or speaker when he was in elementary school. He can’t remember the details, but he felt a surge of calm.
TIED TOGETHER: With whispers, makeup brushes and a coconut, the Michigan TikTok star lulls viewers to sleep
“The main limitation of ASMR for sleep and anxiety is the lack of empirical evidence,” wrote Dr. Tatiana Rodriguez-Klein, a sleep medicine specialist at Spectrum Health West Michigan, in an email.
A review of the research literature on ASMR also shows that not all individuals who view ASMR videos experience the tingling, further limiting the benefits, Rodriguez-Klein said.
ASMR refers to a calming sensation that runs through the scalp and extends to the spine. Various sounds and actions trigger this response, and “ASMRtists” on YouTube and TikTok present it through muffled tones, tapping or clicking, and gentle personal attention—a mock facial massage, hair brushing, or makeup.
It is not known why only some people experience this reaction. Also, it’s not clear why people experience it in the first place, Grove wrote.
The phenomenon has only been named since around 2010.
“It’s similar to migraine headaches – we know it exists as a syndrome mainly because many different people report the same constellation of symptoms and natural history,” wrote Dr. Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine, and confirmed in 2012 that ASMR is real.
“This is just another example of how incredibly complex and weird our brains are. How else can you explain the existence of videos with Latin whispering paper noise on YouTube(?)?”
Although recognized by the scientific community, the research is not extensive. Once minor, it’s now mainstream, and Grove said that because of its popularity, he expects the study will continue and grow.
Olivia White, 25, from Jackson, goes live on TikTok every night to perform ASMR as LivvyloveASMR. It’s her full-time job and attracts more than 577,000 followers.
ASMR helped her through the suicide of her former boyfriend Greer Brody and in coping with her Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which was only diagnosed after the rigors of college revealed trouble concentrating. She’s also better rested.
“It totally changed my ability to function as a human being,” she said.
She can’t imagine doing without them. “Being able to sleep is just essential to live, to do anything during the day, or to work.”
Outside of sleep, she also looks at it – “When I’m feeling anxious.” It regulates her nervous system, lowers her heart rate.
Others report the same, and thousands are attracted to White, interactive, empathetic, and genuine. Leaning into what sometimes seems strange or confusing to her, she’ll cream a coconut, pretend to brush viewers’ faces, and recently and especially for October, role-play some role-playing games in the costumes of famous characters or people, including She-Hulk, Velma from Scooby Doo and unintended ASMR star, painter Bob Ross.
According to Grove, ASMR could be used in relaxation time an hour before bed to promote relaxation, which can help people fall asleep.
The caveat? Viewing on a phone or tablet exposes people to light, which can contribute to sleep disorders, Grove said. “Phones and tablets can also be psychologically stimulating because of all the activities we do with them.”
White says sometimes she just plugs in her headphones and listens. Some ASMRtists, she mentions, put their audio on Spotify.
dr Virginia Skiba of Detroit-based Henry Ford Health said she believes ASMR is a relaxation technique. Likewise breathing techniques and other meditative practices. “And different things resonate well with different people.”
When she has insomnia sufferers, she often talks to them about what they can do to calm their minds. “I kind of encourage them to find what works for them.”
ASMR is a subjective experience and cannot be generalized without “appropriate empirical support,” Rodriguez-Klein wrote.
Less stress and improved sleep quality are common self-reported benefits, she said. Anecdotally, people report watching a video before bed and noticing a reduced time to sleep.
For insomnia, experts prefer evidence-based treatments, including cognitive behavioral therapy. Stimulus control and sleep restriction therapy, aimed at eliminating prolonged waking periods in the middle of the night, are core components, she said.
Insomnia is diagnosed when sleep problems last longer than three months, are present three or more days a week, and interfere with daytime functioning, Rodriguez-Klein wrote. Insomnia often involves a process of the mind and body. “In that case, using ASMR or a single stress-relief exercise… probably won’t be effective.”
Regarding stress and anxiety, “the practice of positive coping tools can help in self-management of these disorders,” noted Rodriguez Klein.
A clinical level of anxiety could also require additional treatment or intervention, including behavior modification or medication management, she wrote.
This doesn’t mean ASMR is ineffective, she said.
She wouldn’t advise against it if a patient reports a benefit, but she wouldn’t recommend it due to the lack of clinical trials to assess effectiveness.
“I feel like in some cases, doctors can be more resistant to things they’re not getting paid to do,” said one of White’s loyal viewers, Krystyna Sills, a Virginia attorney who says ASMR improves the quality of her sleep , usually three to four hours a night
Before she started watching ASMR regularly, she said she got maybe an hour of sleep. “So it’s improved.”
Her therapist and doctor support her through this, she said.
There is no data on ASMR as a relaxant, noted Dawn Dore-Stites, clinical associate professor and associate director of education in pediatric psychology at Michigan Medicine, but there is such individual variability. She had a patient who listened to hardcore rap to relax.
“If it works for the patient, it works for them,” Dore-Stites said. “As long as it doesn’t harm anyone.”
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