Every night I slip into bed around 10pm. With Chris at the gym banging weights or whatever it is he does, I have spent the evening either writing, or watching "Hoarders" or painting my nails. I’m a creature of habit. As the clock creeps up to the 9:50pm mark, I start to panic. I need to be in bed, with the lights off! Or I’ll NEVER GET TO SLEEP!
I have this strange fear of not being able to get a good night’s sleep. I have pretty much banned us from watching TV in the bedroom, as I get convinced that I'll be watching "The Sopranos" and then BAM! It will be 7am and I’ll have to get up for work. I’ve never even had problems with insomnia; I’ve never actually spent restless nights awake, staring at the ceiling, listening to the traffic outside. It’s all completely in my head and one of my weird little quirks, I guess, like having coleslaw with steak (Chris HATES that), or saving all the cola bottle Tangfastics until last. The main problem with taking myself off to bed pre-10pm is that I’m actually not even tired, but the fear kicks in and I have to be in bed, willing sleep to come.
God, I’m weird.
A couple of years ago, I was dicking about on YouTube when I somehow stumbled across -– as you do –- a video of a girl whispering reading The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. I loved the book, so I thought I’d listen to her reading it. I was asleep within 3 minutes of the video starting. I felt a calm, buzzy feeling all over my scalp, shooting down into my back, and then I fell asleep. It was amazing! I’d found a way to drift off, instantly, and it felt good too.
The next night, I explored a little further and realized the girl who had been reading the story had a whole YouTube account dedicated to whispering. I listened to a few videos (they all had static images, nothing to look at, so it was easy to switch off), and read the comments. There was a whole "whispering community," which sounded fucking weird but hey -– I’m open-minded! I’ll join any kind of cult! (JANE, I’LL DRINK THE KOOL AID!)
This "whispering community" spoke about ASMR a lot, something I’d never heard of. If you do a quick search online for ASMR (the proper name is Autonomous Sensory Meridian Reponse, dontcha know) you'll find people listing feelings that they get from watching or listening to videos designed to stimulate them, from tingling in the limbs, to a feeling of warmth, to what is known as a "braingasm." (Kinky, non?) There are stacks of videos tagged with ASMR that are just simple, homemade vids with one "host" doing a series of activities made to kickstart the response that the viewers (me included) are so keen to feel.
Videos of girls with long nails tapping boxes, brushing their hair, speaking quietly and close to the camera, pretending to be dermatologists or event managers, making frittatas, unboxing new games for the PlayStation, stacking Jenga blocks carefully and slowly, making QVC style videos of showing off jewelry…it sounds crazy but the millions of channel views tell a story. People LIKE watching people doing barely anything. It’s the ultimate escapism.
I soon found out that in this ASMR community, the Queen Bee is a young Russian woman living in America who goes by the name "GentleWhispering." Her fans go wild for every new offering, commenting that her videos have "changed my life!!!" and declaring love and proposals of marriage, all thanks to the way she whispers close into the microphone and pretends to give you a scalp massage. I started watching her videos to help me sleep, and before long I was logging in nightly, watching her give tutorials on how to learn Russian, and showing off the newest offerings in diabetic shoes (she works in a medical supply store, and shoots most of her videos there, using the stock as props.).
One of her most popular videos, with over 750,000 views, is 20 minutes of her pretending to apply makeup to a camera. Another is a full 20 minutes of her showing us how to fold towels in a decorative manner. I watch people folding towels to get me to sleep. It sounds mental, but within five minutes of watching any of her videos, I’ll be asleep. No matter how awake I am.
I read a piece on ASMR by a journalist who summarized the piece by saying: “This bizarre, burgeoning subculture may not be the greatest testament to the power of the internet -– I'd probably agree that there's something appalling about the idea of millions of people, myself included, sitting in an almost trance-like state, frittering away hours of our time watching incredibly soporific video content on laptops. But hey, at least we have smiles on our faces.” And I’d agree.
Had you heard of ASMR, and if so, do you get THE TINGLES? What weird shit do YOU do to get to sleep? Do you all think I’m mental now? Oh god.
Natalie’s up ‘til 10pm over on Twitter: @Natalie_KateM