person listening to asmr in headphones

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) videos have taken the internet by storm. Chances are, you've seen at least one of the strangely calming YouTube videos of someone flipping book pages, cutting kinetic sand, or even whispering gently into the microphone. 

As of this year, ASMR videos have collectively racked up trillions of views on YouTube. So-called ASMR artists design their videos and playlists to evoke a relaxing, tingly sensation that viewers describe as running from their scalps down their spines.

Fans of ASMR claim listening to these sounds quells anxiety and helps them sleep better. But what does science say? Let's define ASMR, then unpack whether it can help with sleep.

What is ASMR?

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. The word is used to describe the experience of a pleasant tingling sensation (usually on the scalp) in response to gentle, consistent movements or sounds. 

Research on ASMR is slim, but we know it isn't experienced by everyone. It's still unclear how many people have this physical response to specific audio-visual cues. For those who do, listening to ASMR sounds at night might help induce a calming sensation that promotes sleep.

What triggers ASMR? 

Research on ASMR is still ongoing, but the popularity of specific videos suggests that common triggers include whispering, soft crinkling, taping, page-turning, and other gentle, slow movements.

According to a 2017 questionnaire filled out by 130 people who experience ASMR, there are several common characteristics of a compelling ASMR video or soundtrack:

  • lower-pitched, complex sounds
  • slow-paced movements
  • close-up or detail-focused visuals

How does ASMR work? 

ASMR still isn't fully understood, but we know it's more than a feeling. There's both scientific and anecdotal evidence that ASMR triggers actual physical responses. People who experience ASMR feel a tingling sensation, but their heart rates also slow and their skin conductance, a sign of heightened emotion and attention, increases.

ASMR for sleep: Is it really effective?

"Sounds that are calming, soft, and consistent are more likely to induce restful sleep," says Shelby Harris, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and director of sleep health at Sleepopolis. "However, ASMR as a sleep aid does not have a solid evidence base behind it."

While there's not much clinical evidence that ASMR can help sleep, there are anecdotal reports suggesting ASMR can help some people fall asleep more easily or quickly. Harris says that might be because ASMR sounds are relaxing, and calming the mind can improve sleep quality.

"If listening to ASMR videos before bed helps someone to relax, unwind, and fall asleep faster, then that's great," she says. "That being said, ASMR is not necessarily an evidence-based treatment for chronic insomnia. If you find that what you've been doing routinely isn't helping, talk with a sleep doctor."

How do you use ASMR for sleep? 

To use ASMR as a sleep aid, Harris suggests opting for a soundtrack over a video. "Blue light exposure from cell phones, computers, tablets, and TVs can make it more difficult for you to fall asleep and worsen your sleep quality," she says.

You can still use ASMR YouTube videos for sleep by turning the screen away from your face or placing your phone face down on the nightstand after pressing "play." 

Even Saatva has an ASMR video to help you fall asleep by listening to the gentle sound of ocean waves. Whatever ASMR video you choose, remember to focus on the sounds rather than the screen as you try to calm your mind and prepare for sleep.


What does ASMR stand for? 

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It refers to a relaxing, tingling sensation that spreads from the scalp down the spine.

Does ASMR cause insomnia? 

ASMR is more likely to cause relaxation than insomnia. However, Harris says playing ASMR sounds that are loud or inconsistent could disrupt your sleep.

"If you find that listening to ASMR is worsening your sleep quality or causing you to wake up more tired after a few days, then it's probably doing more harm than good," she explains.

Is sleeping with ASMR good? 

There's no clinical evidence that ASMR is an effective sleep aid. However, ASMR sounds are soft and repetitive, which Harris says is likely to promote restful sleep. 

What is the best ASMR for sleep? 

No studies prove that one type of ASMR is better than another for sleep. If you want to listen to ASMR as you fall asleep, Harris recommends playing a soundtrack of soft, consistent sounds at a low volume. 

Could listening to a podcast help you sleep better? Here are the best podcasts to get you ready for bed.

Leandra Beabout

Leandra Beabout

Leandra Beabout is a freelance health and travel writer based between Indiana and India. Her work has been published in Reader's Digest, Greatist, The Guardian, CNN Travel, Lonely Planet, and more. She was previously an English teacher and daily newspaper reporter. 

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