Rustling leaves, gentle whispering, the whoosh-whoosh of a makeup brush against a microphone — if just imagining those sounds sent a relaxing shiver down your spine, you may be sensitive to ASMR.
Videos that set out to elicit ASMR — or autonomous sensory meridian response — are a tool many people have turned to for help falling asleep — with more than 11 million YouTube searches for ASMR every month.
But what is it about these tingle-inducing audio or video clips that helps put calm and sleep within reach?
We asked experts and dove into the research to find out.
What is ASMR and what are the triggers?
The term ASMR was coined in 2010 to describe the pleasant, static-like tingling sensation some people experience in response to specific audio or visual stimuli.
The sensation often begins on the scalp and travels down the back of the neck — sometimes encompassing the entire body — and is widely reported to be accompanied by feelings of relaxation and well-being.
The type of stimulus that can trigger ASMR varies from person to person, but often includes gentle whispering and personal attention (like having your hair played with). ASMR provides temporary but welcomed relief for people with depression, chronic pain, and stress.
While most ASMR triggers can be sorted into categories, most videos will combine different triggers to help soothe and encourage your brain to relax. Research shows having at least two triggers are preferred in an ASMR experience.
Triggers can be:
- Sounds: letter pronunciation, whispering, tapping, typing, blowing, and scratching
- Touch: tickling the arm, head scratching, tapping, and hair brushing
- Visuals: color swatching, light tracing, and finger fluttering
- Role-play or personal attention: video or audio experiences that mimic situations where there is eye contact, face touching, or one-on-one interaction
- Flow: intense focus, no awareness of time, and focus on a greater presence
If you’ve ever found yourself eagerly anticipating the unparalleled zen of your hairdresser running her fingers through your hair or found solace in watching and listening to beloved landscape painter Bob Ross create “happy little clouds” with meditative brushstrokes, you may already be experiencing ASMR without knowing it.
Bob Ross’s ASMR falls into the “unintentional” category (a term describing content that triggers ASMR incidentally rather than by design).
There are many ASMR creators, however, who deliberately curate these experiences for people. Some videos are very streamlined, but other ASMR creators go above and beyond, assembling costumes, props, and sets for role-play videos, which are a popular sub-genre of ASMR. YouTube is one of the most popular platforms for ASMR creators, also known as “ASMRtists.”
How to use ASMR for better sleep
Since many people listen to whispering ASMR videos for sleep on their phones while lying in bed, the sleep-sucking rabbit hole of internet browsing is only a tap away. The key is to find the ASMR sounds that work best for you and to use them in a way that won’t negatively affect your sleep.
To use ASMR for relaxation — and not late night doomscrolling — there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Protect your eyes from blue light and listen to ASMR podcasts instead of videos, if you plan on drifting away during your session.
- Set a time limit, if engaging with videos, and try to finish the ASMR portion of your bedtime routine an hour before you snooze.
- Put your device face down on the bedside table to avoid visual triggers or light from keeping you up.
- Opt for ASMR podcasts, another great way to avoid blue light while still getting your fix of tingles.
According to Dr. W. Chris Winter, neurologist, Sleep.com advisor, and author of “The Sleep Solution,” ASMR is like other sleep aids and should be considered a tool, not a necessity. “If you’re using it to wind down and relax and you have a lot of anxiety, great — but don’t make the mistake of thinking that that video […] is the reason why you sleep.”
The best ASMR sleep sounds and videos
When it comes to finding ASMR sleep sounds, video or audio only, there are a variety of places you can turn to — from YouTube to podcasts to Twitch to Clubhouse. ASMR videos for sleep typically involve muted sounds and colors while podcasts focus on gentle, relaxing, ambient noises.
Below, we've rounded up some of the best ASMR videos, podcasts, and more in a variety of different genres to get you started.
1. Top 10 triggers for sleeping by GibiASMR
This video by GibiASMR, who has over 3.5 million subscribers, covers top 10 ASMR triggers for sleep, which include ear-to-ear whispering, mic brushing, tapping, water sounds, crinkling, and more.
2. For insomnia: sleep hypnosis *REAL HYPNOTHERAPIST* whispered
Sleep hypnosis is shown to work by helping your brain focus away from racing thoughts and onto anything else. This video by The ASMR Psychologist whispers while emphasizing "t" and "d" sounds.
3. 99.99% of you will sleep to this ASMR
Jojo's ASMR who has 1.8 million subscribers created the ultimate ASMR for sleep that is three hours long. From foil crinkling to whispering to mic brushing, this is the ultimate playlist for sleepers who worry about running out of sounds to sleep to.
4. Sleep-inducing haircut
An alluring example of personal attention, whispering, and iconic ASMR sounds, Tingting ASMR (who has 1.9 million subscribers) takes you on a 20-minute sound experience with hair brushing, head massages, and gentle water sounds. If this video was too short, Tingting ASMR has a three hour long cut.
5. ASMR sleep triggers for the best sleep of your life
With 1.5 million subscribers, ASMR Glow goes through some of the top triggers for relaxation and sleep, including mic scratching, slow tapping, finger fluttering, and light triggers.
Other ASMR streams and podcasts to try:
- FoxenKin Live ASMR on Twitch
- ASMR for Sleep with Celaine on Twitch
- Sleep Whispers Podcast by Whispering Harris
- Sleep Meditation Podcast by ASMR Sleep Triggers
- Sleep and Relax ASMR, weekly podcast
How does ASMR work for relaxation?
While there is a growing body of research on ASMR, there is still no definitive conclusion on how exactly it functions biologically.
ASMR has been shown to help alleviate both physical and emotional pain. In one online study, 80% of respondents shared that watching ASMR helped to brighten their mood, especially among people with depression. Among those surveyed who reported living with chronic pain, 42% stated that watching ASMR improved their symptoms for up to three hours — a benefit that may help them doze off.
Researchers propose that ASMR may be beneficial in a similar way to mindfulness and meditation.
A small 2018 study showed evidence that for some, ASMR triggers areas of the brain handling social cognition, sensory processing, and attention. The study also pointed to a response from one of the brain's reward centers, the nucleus accumbens. These findings could explain the pleasurable and soothing sensations associated with ASMR.
Researchers in Winnipeg found that those who experienced ASMR had more connections between certain brain regions than those who did not experience ASMR. According to their 2016 study, this network of increased links between areas associated with vision, memory, social behavior, and other cognitive functions “likely influences the unique sensory-emotional experiences associated with ASMR.”
Why does ASMR help you sleep better?
In the first research study on ASMR, published in 2015, 82% of participants surveyed said that they watch ASMR videos specifically to help them sleep.
But whether ASMR can actually help you fall asleep faster has yet to be determined.
The scientific research “isn’t quite there yet,” says Winter. According to Winter, it’s possible ASMR helps people fall asleep in the same way television does — by encouraging relaxation. Unlike television, however, ASMR is curated to be soothing without being too engaging so your brain doesn’t trigger you to stay awake.
Sleep research using EEGs shows our minds responding to things we hear, and even sorting stimuli and filing memories. ASMR is like the boring version of processing.
“It’s like a TV show you’ve seen 30 times," says Winter about ASMR. “It gets you outside of that fear of, ‘Oh my god, I’m in bed, I can’t fall asleep, what am I gonna do?’”
Another benefit? ASMR creators and the community puts a lot of work into curating a relaxing sleep experience. According to Winter, many folks have a renewed sense of control over their own sleep cycles, a feeling which can help to assuage any performance anxiety that’s keeping them awake.
In other words, because ASMR is an entire genre created with the intention of promoting relaxation and sleep, engaging with it can encourage people to be more conscious of their sleep choices and routines.
That said, ASMR shouldn’t be the only part of your bedtime routine. Remember to practice good sleep hygiene overall, too, from keeping a consistent bedtime (which could mean starting your ASMR watch earlier in the night instead of right in bed) to regular wakeup time.