What Is ASMR and Can It Help With Anxiety and Insomnia?

Producing what some call a "braingasm," ASMR videos are racking up millions of views on YouTube

By Stephanie Fairyington
January 8, 2020

ASMR, which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, refers to the sweet tingling sensation over the scalp of the head that some people feel when hearing certain sounds like a slow turning newspaper, or a soft whisper, and the slumber-inducing calm that washes over them afterwards. The physical pleasure and relaxation it provides is so similar in nature to an orgasm, it’s something called a “braingasm.” 

For years, ASMRists, or those who make ASMR videos, have touted the mental health benefits of their recordings of various auditory and visual stimuli, claiming they help their viewers sleep and manage anxiety, but the only evidence for those claims for the longest time were the legions (many  millions) of users who’ve left comments under videos affirming their healing powers.  According to a report on The Cut, one reader wrote: “‘Before ASMR, I had to take tablets for my insomnia, proud to say ASMR videos help me fall asleep a great deal.’” Another added: “‘’I’ve had anxiety disorder for years, and this has been the only thing that calms me down.’” 

After a persistent flurry of media coverage chronicling the phenomenon’s development, profiling its most popular practitioners (Gentle Whispering (aka. Maria) boasts 1.78 million followers with one video garnering more 21 million views!) and the sworn-testimony of its most fanatical evangelists, scientists started taking it seriously as a subject worthy of investigation — and the verdict is in: A study out of the University of Sheffield in the U.K. last year found that those who experience ASMR (not everyone does) exhibited increased levels of calm (slower heart rate when watching ASMR videos) and decreased levels of stress and sadness. The academic who authored that groundbreaking research, Giulia Poerio from the University of York in the U.K., also contemplated the efficacy of ASMR as a remedy for insomnia in The Restless Compendium: Interdisciplinary Investigations of Rest and Its Opposite, assessing whether the videos’ ability to moderate our stress levels and heart rate might create the right physiological conditions for successfully falling asleep. 

The videos below have raked in millions of views:

Do you find them soothing? Let us know below.

About the Writer:
Stephanie Fairyington is a writer based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, CNN, TheAtlantic.com, Time.com, NewRepublic.com, and other publications. 

Outlier Disclaimer

This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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