Have you ever fallen asleep to someone tapping on a plastic colander?

I have.

I started writing a blog about ASMR one year ago. I didn’t finish it because the more I wrote about it, the weirder I felt, like those people on Channel 4 documentaries who fall in love with fairground rides and car exhausts, and you think – why are you on telly admitting to this? This is precisely the reason we have secrets.

I’ve never been ashamed of watching ASMR; there’s certainly weirder stuff to be into. I found it by accident. I wanted to know what an Icelandic accent sounded like and the video I found was an Icelandic woman speaking softly and tapping on things she’d bought from a supermarket. I had no idea what was going on but I watched the entire 20 minute video like I’d been hypnotised.

I wasn’t quite ready to write a blog about my weird new interest last year. Before I go any further I should probably explain what it is, in case you’re not one of the (apparently) millions of people who watch ASMR on YouTube.

You know that feeling you get when you have a massage? Or slip into a nice hot bubble bath surrounded by candles with a glass of chilled white wine and an audio book? Well imagine that feeling, and then imagine that you could recreate it with sound. ASMR stands for auto sensory meridian response, according to Wikipedia. It describes the way certain sounds and visuals can trigger a pleasant feeling in the brain. To give you an example, popular ASMR triggers include:

  • Tapping and scratching on things (either with long fancy-looking nails, or with finger-tips)
  • Crinkling (scrunching up plastic)
  • Brushing (normally with a make-up brush)
  • Whispering or soft speaking
  • Roleplays (simulating situations people find relaxing, like having a hair cut, a massage, or being tucked into bed – some of them are pretty imaginative)
  • Mouth sounds (the worst thing ever, I really can’t get on board with it. Basically that horrible salivary noise you hear on Radio 4 when the speaker is too close to the mic).

The trick to ASMR is using a binaural microphone so that when you listen with headphones, the sound is delivered to each ear separately and it really feels as if the ASMRtist (as they’re known) is there in the room doing relaxing stuff in your ears.

Yeah it’s weird. At first it’s weird. Then you get slowly, reluctantly drawn in and before you know it you can’t fall asleep without someone rummaging through their handbag in your ears.

My sister is a convert

My sister Emma’s personal space is above averagely large and fiercely guarded. She sends out invisible laser beams to stalk its perimeters. A single arm hair breaches her personal space and she’ll know about it. It pisses her off instantly. She hates that salivary thing on Radio 4. She hates those metal pronged head massager claws. She cry-laughed with horror and bafflement when I showed her an ASMR video . She did not understand it. To her, it was kind of disgusting. She laughed heartily with her physio colleagues about it the next day. But then – that very evening, with a healthy sense of scientific curiosity, she ventured onto YouTube, searched ASMR and found her favourite actress (who she can’t remember the name of) doing an ASMR-style interview for W Magazine.

Suddenly it didn’t seem quite so weird. This was a normal person after all, a person in films, not her strange little sister. In the list of recommended videos below was a video called ‘tucking you into bed’. What the f%!!?*!* f*&% is that, thought my sister, and she clicked. One hour and a bit of dribble later, she finally got it.

It’s weird. REALLY weird. But it’s very relaxing. Some people claim they don’t ‘get ASMR’ but maybe they’re just not letting themselves get over the weirdness of it.

My own personal theory is that it occupies just enough of your brain to stop you thinking about other things, but not so much that it takes any effort. You sort of hover in this cathartic in-between place, where you’re half watching someone do something repetitive and simple, and half falling into a hypnotic trance. The sound vibrations add to the sensory experience – they are physically moving your ear hairs after all. For many people the content of the ASMR is what does it – the positive affirmations, the caring roleplays. People who feel lonely, anxious, or depressed can get the sense that they’re being looked after. The ASMRtists become familiar faces – comforting and friendly. And really, is there anything wrong with that?

So there we go. I did it. I confessed. I watch ASMR. I know I’m not the only one either. There has to be at least one person reading this blog who’s as weird as me. Come on, show yourselves…anyone?


One response to “Have you ever fallen asleep to someone tapping on a plastic colander?”

  1. This is intriguing. I heard about ASMR awhile ago and it is a strange concept to understand. I haven’t watched any myself as I figured it would work for me. I am very funny about sound, especially repetitive noises (ticking clocks drive me to distraction), I am also incredibly bad at relaxing. Maybe that’s exactly why I should give it a go! Thanks for the interesting read.


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