When it comes to the health, fitness and wellness industry there are certainly some unusual concepts out there. From cupping to tuning forks, you probably thought you’d heard it all. But have you heard of ‘ASMR’?
For years now, people have been taking to the internet to produce Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response — aka ASMR — to relax perfect strangers and lull them to sleep.
ASMR is said to be the sense of euphoria that starts with a tingling sensation on the scalp which runs down the back of the neck, spine and even the limbs. It’s known to cause the person experiencing it to feel an overwhelming sense of calmness, happiness or joy.
The term Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response was first coined in 2010 by a woman named Jennifer Allen when she couldn’t find a legitimate explanation (on the internet and through extensive research) of what she was feeling.
According to a 2019 piece in The New York Times magazine, ASMR can be achieved by hearing the pages of books turning, peeling dried glue and even listening to people chew gum.
Fast forward to 2021 and ASMR is a bone fide — and to the uninitiated, quite weird — YouTube sensation, with practitioners earning millions of views and a fervent fan base simply through speaking in soft, hushed tones or whispers, alongside sounds of tapping, clicking, brushing and more.
Last year Cosmopolitan Middle East launched an ASMR series on Snapchat called Hamsa 3arabiya (aka Whispers of Arabia). In one of the videos, host and magazine content editor Layla Saleh conducts a makeup tutorial, narrating in a whisper, tapping the bottles, unscrewing caps and applying products to her face using makeup brushes.
It seems like everyone is trying to get a slice of the ASMR action. One Dubai-based YouTube user has created an ASMR-focused account, Articulate Design ASMR, which currently boasts 147,000 followers and 29.5 million views. His role-play videos range from a luxury hotel check-in to a first-class flight attendant. There’s even an Uber Drive Around Role-play Service (Drive Around Dubai Sleep Service) video. Some of the ASMR-inducing noises include the gentle hum of the driving car, turning on the indicator and changing gears.
“After listening to ASMR for so many years, I finally decided to really join the community and create some content of my own in my spare time,” explains the Englishman, who goes by the single name of Matt. “My videos are really just meant to relax and maybe even help you sleep at night.”
If you are a bit confused by it all, Mai Elsayed, a licensed clinical hypnotherapist, explains.
“ASMR proves that the subconscious mind does not know the difference between imagination or reality,” she says. “If you are watching a whispering ASMR video, you could get relaxed the same way you would if someone was telling you a bedtime story in a soft voice.”
Dubai-based Samantha Wilkins, co-founder of Talent & Truth, a Dubai-based PR & Social Media consultancy, experiences ASMR “multiple times a day, and have for as long as I can remember”.
Whatever induces the response is called “a trigger,” she says and for her, it’s not directly related to sounds.
“My biggest trigger is quite a unique one, based on the conversations and research I have done into ASMR,” says Wilkins. “Essentially, I will get a ‘brain tingle’ that extends all the way down my spine whenever someone borrows something of mine. The best example I can share is when I was at school or in an office; whenever a classmate or a colleague borrowed my pen, needed my stapler, needed a post-it note, or used my scissors, it would elicit this response. My brother and I recently discovered — at ages 34 and 32 — that we both experience ASMR and share this trigger, which is pretty interesting. Needless to say I am always happy when someone asks to borrow something of mine.”
But what does ASMR feel like?
”It is a really gentle, pleasurable sensation,” says Wilkins. “In my experience, the sensation comes in wave-like patterns; it will be most intense at first and then the sensation will come and go for as long as the trigger is present.”
While there are many ways of finding relaxation on the internet these days, it seems that ASMR is a hit particularly with millennials. Celebrity fans include fellow millennials Cardi B and Ariana Grande. Kylie Jenner, arguably the biggest celebrity and influencer in the world right now, uses ASMR as a marketing technique for her makeup and skincare lines. In one tutorial, she narrates speaking softly while allowing the microphone to pick up on the sound of the swishing and brushing as she applies her Kylie Cosmetics.
“Be it content creators or users, millennials are leading the ASMR community,” explains Elsayed. “Individuals in the 21 to 45 age group tend to be more open-minded and willing to explore what is on the Internet. The first and most obvious choice that they make is to search the web for answers.”
This article is part of Livehealthy’s first Sleep Week. Starting on March 13 and running up to and including World Sleep Day on March 19, we have seven full days of coverage on everything to do with the one-third of our lives we spend in – or trying to get to – slumber.