'Tingleheads' claim videos help ease stress

Do you find whispering, crinkling paper, tapping fingernails or scratching soothing? If so, you may be a "tinglehead" — one of the growing number of folks who turn to YouTube videos to relax. 

When Lauren Ellis can’t sleep, she heads to YouTube to watch videos. She isn’t watching a favorite movie to catch some Zz’s. Instead she’s viewing videos of people whispering softly, crinkling paper, folding towels, or role playing massages, facials, and doctor’s appointments. Ellis has autonomous sensory meridian response, (ASMR).

While there’s no medical research on ASMR, several triggers unleash these “braingasms” that people with ASMR or tingleheads experience including:

  • Whispering (which can include those oh so soothing voices from NPR hosts)
  • Crinkling paper
  • Folding towels
  • Hushing or white noise sounds
  • Hair cuts
  • Doctor’s visits
  • Guided imagery
  • Ear cleaning

These cause "tingleheads" to experience deep tingling that starts at the head and spreads down the spine, through the entire body.

Dr. Christopher Winter, a sleep medicine expert at Charlottesville Neurology & Sleep Medicine in Virginia, says there are several possible reasons for ASMR. People feel stimuli differently. While ear cleaning might elicit little response for some, others experience great pleasure. It’s all how our brains process the world.

Another reason? People might associate these triggers with pleasant experiences. That whispering might remind someone of mom lulling her to sleep. A haircut might spark fond memories of Saturdays spent with dad at the barbershop.

“These are situations where people are experiencing intense pleasure and there is a tremendous amount of intense pain in medicine,” he says, adding that understanding how people experience intense pleasure might help doctors treat some of this intense pain without drugs.

Using the videos to sleep or temper anxiety isn't a problem, Winter says, unless it becomes a crutch. If you'd like to try it for yourself, watch Ally, one of the most popular ASMR stars, who whispers and crinkles her way through videos.