ASMR Videos May Be the World’s Creepiest Way of Fighting Insomnia

And possibly the most effective.
ASMR Videos May Be the World’s Creepiest Way of Fighting Insomnia
Photo illustrations By C.J. Burton.

For the past two years, I’ve been inviting whispering women into my bed. Velvet-voiced, trance-inducing ladies of the night. My wife thought it peculiar at first. But when I showed her what they were up to, she succumbed, too. On occasion, we’ve all slept together. Literally slept. That’s it. It’s not weird. Well, it’s kind of weird. But it’s a weird world out there. Especially when you submerge yourself in digital media, as most of us now do for some five hours a day. Have you seen the internet lately? Beheadings, cat videos, leaked photos of naked celebutantes—it’s only a matter of time before we witness a naked celebutante beheading her cat.

All this sensory overload makes it difficult to wind down. Which is where my sleep whisperers come in. A night owl by disposition, I find it harder than ever to calm the mind and get to sleep. I’ve tried traditional remedies—melatonin, Diphenhydramine, heavy drinking. Then by accident I found something that reliably works without punishing my liver: ASMR videos on YouTube.

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response—a faux-scientific name bestowed by enthusiasts to classify that tingling, soothing, neurotransmitter-discharging sensation some get when, say, hearing a pleasing voice talking softly, or watching someone slowly and methodically run her fingers through her hair, or listening to Bob Ross scrape his “happy little trees” across a canvas (the late, Afro’d landscape painter is considered the Ahura Mazda of the ASMR movement).

There are now tens of thousands of ASMR “trigger” videos, which are not sexual in nature but which, like porn, cater to every taste. ASMRtists (some are men, but most are youngish women) will stroke the camera lens with a makeup brush or crinkle wrapping paper or whisper softly or trace figures in shaving cream or role-play a doctor giving an imaginary patient a cranial-nerve exam (an ASMR staple). The list of activities is long. All of this in an attempt to hit your hypnotic sweet spot, to immerse you in a warm bath of the mind as you’re carried off to the Land of Nod.

Because there’s next to no published research on the subject, many journalistic treatments of ASMR center around one inquiry: Is this sensation verifiable scientifically? To which I say: Who cares? Science has yet to convincingly explain placebo effects, dark matter, or why people pay money to hear Ariana Grande sing. Yet these realities exist. Science can’t even illuminate why we yawn, yet yawning is precisely what I do every time someone tries to seek scientific validation of ASMR.

Why question what works? And ASMR clearly works, as demonstrated by the sheer number of ASMRtists populating the web and the tens of thousands of views these video-making amateurs with names like “softsoundwhispers” (a British-accented woman who is in my regular viewing rotation) often rack up.

I don’t want to go so far as to say ASMR is better than sex, even though ASMR devotees often refer to the drowsy euphoria the videos provide as a “braingasm.” But the average orgasm lasts 5 to 20 seconds. Whereas, if you find an ASMR video that pulls your trigger, it often runs 30 minutes to an hour. You do the math of which ’gasm provides more pleasure, even if you often won’t make it to the end of said video. I’ve never seen the end of many of my favorites, due to being rendered comatose before they conclude.

When I’ve admitted to friends that I’ve spent an ungodly amount of time watching women brush their hair, or gently ramble about their day, or softly read the poetry of John Donne (as one of my very favorites, a Tennessee ASMRtist named Christen Noel, does), there’s a bit of sheepishness on my end. Confessing to such a habit can earn you the uneasy stares that I imagine people get when coming out as a paint huffer or a Twilight fan-fiction writer.

So laugh, if you must, that I’ve drifted off countless times to ASMRtist “chelseamorganwhispers” role-playing a shoe-boutique employee trying to sell me nude peep-toes with a five-inch heel as she taps on them with her long, graceful fingers (even though I’m more of a closed-toe-flats guy). I won’t be chastened by your ridicule. In fact, I won’t even hear it. I’ll be too busy sleeping through the shame, snug in the arms of Morpheus.

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