The social media grind never sleeps on TikTok, nor do the streamers behind the strangest phenomenon I’ve seen yet.
Welcome to TikTok Live
There are no unique experiences in this world, I’ve concluded. I open TikTok, see a video where somebody discusses the time something incredibly specific happened to them, and make a note in my diary to call my therapist. But this apathetic scrolling was taken over a few weeks ago by a phenomenon that haunts my FYP, and I need to discuss it with anybody so I can sleep a little easier at night.
Unlike these TikTokers, who scare me quite a bit.
Let me explain. If you’ve ever opened TikTok, you’ve scrolled a bit and then arrived at some live streams. My favorites are somewhere between the video from inside a party bus where a man in a full Peppa Pig costume is hanging from the ceiling and the girl alternating between very quiet meowing and outright screeching to play a minigame on screen. But I keep seeing people who will sacrifice their sleep schedules for a deceptively low cost to make some cash.
I’m not going to act like your parent. Sleep is good, but so is money, and a comfortable bed to sleep in costs – you’ve guessed it – money.
The Hunt For More
Like a reasonable adult, I did the only logical thing in this situation. I opened up TikTok and started scrolling through the live section. Crystal sellers, a bunch of ladies watching a dashcam, and a cool guy playing with one of those finger skateboards.
Then, I found the jackpot.
It’s important to clarify that in some streams, the TikToker will use the same sound effect or other disruption when they receive a set amount of likes as when they receive a ‘smaller’ donation. If you want to be acknowledged by the TikToker or know that the disturbance on screen is yours, you will have to fork out hundreds of dollars to get the chance. And, in most cases, instead of being met with gratitude, it is met by an (understandably exhausted) person grunting and ramming their head back into their pillow.
This Isn’t New
The concept of sleep streamers isn’t a new thing. When YouNow was still the big thing, back in 2015, people were streaming themselves sleeping without interruptions. It originated as a parasocial sleep aid, somebody at their most vulnerable, often cuddled to a teddy bear. At a glance, something very innocent if you ignore the bewilderingly young streamers in the category. Then came Twitch, where we saw the style of streams on TikTok starting to take shape. Twitch, unlike TikTok, isn’t the sort of site you frequent unless you have a reason to go there. Since I stopped streaming, I know I haven’t revisited the site.
But on TikTok, these streams are embedded into your usual scrolling. There are no midroll ads or the ability to pop to another tab and leave it on in the background.
So, you chat. Fascinated, you lie there at two in the morning as All-Star blasts at the poor, unsuspecting TikToker just trying to nap. No longer are these streams about finding a little bit of company when you can’t sleep; they’re about borderline-torturing teenagers who stream themselves because of how absurdly lucrative it is. The effects of sleep deprivation on the mind are damaging, not just in the short-term but also long term. If we look beyond the crucial events, the exams with grades that can influence your life, the dire state in which it can leave your mental health is nothing to scoff at.
Is it Worth it?
Over the last two weeks, I’ve spent much time in these streams. Some were given what I estimate to be over three thousand dollars; others had none and relied on likes to be disturbed. The difference in time zones meant that I could tune in relatively comfortably at eight in the morning, catching streamers when it was midnight for them. And then? I left it turned on. A day or two of the constant noise gave me a headache, but unlike the streamer, I could mute it.
After spending close to two weeks in these streams, I don’t think I’ll be going back. I don’t typically watch streams, so perhaps my TikTok algorithm will be deeply confused by this change in behavior, but that’s okay.
I can sleep easy at night.