The Whisper Whisperer, Or What Puts Me to Sleep at Night

The Whisper

The Whisper

To entertain myself during my slightly longer commute, I shelled out three bucks and got the This American Life (TAL) app. I haven’t listened regularly to the show in years so I have a lot to catch up on. Recently I listened to the episode called Tribes.

The whole thing was great, but what I found especially fascinating was the segment called A Tribe Called Rest, which is about ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response. People who experience ASMR get a “distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, back, or peripheral regions of the body” in response to whispering. Bob Ross (you know, the “happy little tree” guy) is apparently a favorite among whisperer-lovers, as is Maria the towel folder.

The first time I heard of ASMR was when I read this article in xoJane. The author talks about how she watches Maria the towel folder to help her sleep. I don’t usually have trouble sleeping, but when I do, I freak out about it. When I read the article, I was feeling particularly anxious (about my relationship although I didn’t realize it at the time) and was looking for ways, such as meditation, to help me relax.

I watched part of the towel folding video, and found it wasn’t for me. I actually don’t really like the sound of whispering voices. I find them grating. But there are other low sounds that I do like, and until I read about ASMR, I didn’t know why.

For instance, I love the sound of paper being cut. Not just any paper. It has to be thick and firm. Construction paper preferably. And it has to be on TV or the radio. The sound of paper being cut live just isn’t the same.

I don’t get the physical tingling sensation (I only get that from actual physical interaction, like a head massage) but I do get an indescribable feeling of pleasure. It may come from childhood and watching Mr. Rogers cut construction for various projects. Who knows.

While whispered towel-folding instructions or jewelery descriptions don’t do it for me, there are other things that help me relax and which I seek out before bed.

Midsomer Murders. Yup, a murder mystery show helps calm me down. But it’s not like Law & Order or other crime dramas. It’s quirky and light, and I find the British accents very soothing. Doc Martin, a British show set in Cornwall, has a similar vibe: light, quirky, and with a mystery, this one medical, to be solved.

Mushi-Shi. This Japanese anime series falls in the category of animes that are more traditionally Japanese, in other words soft and subtle rather than crazy, loud, and laden with girls and women with impossibly enormous boobs. I’ve seen the series before and am rewatching it. I hardly remember anything — maybe because it made me sleepy the first time around too.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams. When I started watching this, I didn’t know about the soporific effect it would have on me. I had heard it was a great movie by a great director. Who knew that it would make me lose consciousness?

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a beautiful film about a fascinating subject, but between Werner Herzog’s soothing, lightly accented voice (Andrea Seigel, the woman who did the TAL segment, prefers lightly accented voices) and the several long panning shots of the cave drawings, I visited the Land of Nod several times.

I’m always on the lookout for more soothing things to watch. The Planet Earth documentary narrated by Alec Baldwin is pretty good, but I think I’ve seen them all. I remembered recently that I used to love watching documentaries while I lived in China although I barely understood it. Maybe my not understanding the narration was what made it so relaxing. All I heard was the soft tone of the narrator’s voice, murmuring musically as though just for me.

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Brian Smithson]

1 comment

  1. I’ve always found most any noise at a low volume–be it a whisper or the headphone a co-worker left on and walked away from, three desks over–to be especially annoying, but sometimes find falling to sleep to television especially soothing. However, it can’t be a new program/episode–or else I keep awaking, feeling like I’ve missed something. It has to be a rerun…_Golden Girls_ works the best.