Beyond simple “brain tingles”: ASMR videos have health benefits

Beyond simple “brain tingles”: ASMR videos have health benefits

By Mohani Niza

Crunch. Tap. Whisper.

Knock. Pat. Scratch.

These are just some of the various sounds produced by ASMR videos that have had millions of people all over the world hooked to their gadgets.

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and refers to what has been described as “brain tingles” or “brain orgasms”: those tingly sensations that typically begin on the scalp and move down the back of the neck and upper spine.

Since bursting on the Internet scene in 2009, over 15 million ASMR videos have been published on Youtube.

ASMR videos vary according to the interests of the creators and the creativity involved: there are videos of people eating large meals at one time (the most popular ones are called ‘mukbang’, where the host consumes large quantities of food – usually kimchi and the spiciest variations of Ramen noodles – while interacting with the audience), personal attention ASMR videos (such as make-up and hair brushing), ASMR videos of the host ‘plucking away your negative energy’ and videos of the host whispering to you gentle words. You can even watch videos of people having their acne popped, their hair washed and there are also role-plays of cranial nerve exams. The variety is endless.

“Sometimes I find my mind racing with thoughts or that my body is feeling residual stress from the day’s activity, that makes it harder for me to fall asleep at night,” 36-year-old Michelle Yip, the country manager of a content discovery app called Squid who lives on the Malaysian island of Langkawi, tells Healthcare Asia.  “All it takes is about 5 to 10 minutes of ASMR videos to help me doze off. I do this too if I have been feeling incredibly stressed or I want to lull my body into a power nap,” she adds.

She is a particular fan of barber shop and massage ASMR videos, as well as accidental ASMR videos (videos that were not produced with ASMR in mind, but have the same effects) and describes ASMR videos as making her “relaxed and sleepy, accompanied by a dulled, humming sensation at the back of my neck and head.”

Nadia J. Ali, a 35-year old public relations and communications professional from Malaysia who lives in the UK, also says that ASMR videos help her sleep, particularly after a stressful day. She tells Healthcare Asia: “I started watching ASMR videos in 2017. I was first obsessed with high pressure water jet cleaning videos – it’s so satisfying to see things cleaned properly. Then I  moved to soap cutting and crunchy slime. It’s like counting sheep or meditating I guess. Your mind just relaxes.”

For  James, a 22-year-old mathematics student in the UK, who has been watching ASMR videos since he was 17, they also help him sleep and also cope with his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). “I enjoy ASMR videos because they slow my brain down and allow it to focus on something mindless and passive which helps with my overstimulation due to my ADHD,” he tells Healthcare Asia. “When I listen to it, I fall asleep in minutes and so I think it has massively improved my health as I used to have serious trouble sleeping for long stretches and getting off to sleep. Now I can sleep a full night whenever I feel tired which has drastically improved my day.”

And for Jake Symbol, 28, an office worker and comedian from the US, who even creates his own ASMR videos on his channel called Jake Symbol ASMR, this Internet trend helps him manage his nerves. His videos include him eating popsicles and enacting horror stories. He tells Healthcare Asia: “ASMR videos make me feel comforted, they take away my internal social anxiety, if that makes sense? Like I’m enjoying an innocent conversation where I don’t need to impress anyone. I think it is a social phenomenon at the deepest level. It’s not as simple as relaxation, but of course that’s part of it.”

ASMR videos have also helped him forge social connections and nurture a deep sense of passion. “I think the most enduring effect is that it helps me connect with other people. It is a fascinating topic to talk about with other ASMR fans, we always get really enthusiastic when we find out the other like ASMR, partly because it is a “weird” thing that isn’t deeply understood or studied. I make my own ASMR, which factors a lot into that social connection, and indirectly gives me a constructive hobby which helps with self-esteem. It helps me reflect a lot on people and myself and understand people better. It gives me insight into people that I may not have found otherwise.”

ASMR videos vary according to the interests of the creators and the creativity involved: there are videos of people eating large meals at one time (the most popular ones are called ‘mukbang’, where the host consumes large quantities of food – usually kimchi and the spiciest variations of Ramen noodles – while interacting with the audience), personal attention ASMR videos (such as make-up and hair brushing), ASMR videos of the host ‘plucking away your negative energy’ and videos of the host whispering to you gentle words. You can even watch videos of people having their acne popped, their hair washed and there are also role-plays of cranial nerve exams. The variety is endless.

“I’ve found fellow ‘ASMRtists’ to be such genuine people and I see the same genuine innocent enthusiasm for this thing in them,” Jack says further. “It gives me a more positive outlook on people that way. I feel like there are a lot of people who just care about people and exercise a sense of empathy, at least as far as enjoying this phenomenon and wanting to share it with others. I’ve had a lot of people get sentimental about my work and I’ve never had that experience where I feel like I’m doing something kind for people and that my efforts are achieving the simple task of bringing people relaxation and simple joy.”

The positive experience of the interviewees above have been confirmed by studies.

For example, in 2018, researchers from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Psychology examined the physiological changes between participants who watched two different ASMR videos and one control (non-ASMR) video in a laboratory setting.

Those who watched the ASMR videos showed minimised heart rates while doing so (an average decrease of 3.14 beats per minute) compared to those who did not. The participants who watched the ASMR videos also reported signs of positive emotions, such as relaxation and a sense of social connection.

Meanwhile, another 2018 study found that ASMR videos help people to:

•   unwind and relax

•   get to sleep

•   feel comforted or cared for

•   experience less anxiety or pain

•   feel better when sick or upset

In fact, studies also show that people experience relief from depression and stress.

Despite this, more studies have yet to be done extensively on the health benefits of ASMR.

And of course, ASMR videos are no substitute for professional help and medications.

That said, ASMR videos are an innocent and fun experience, which explains its popularity. So if you are looking for a calming and interesting distraction, why not go to YouTube tonight and watch some ASMR videos?



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