If you’re like many people, you remember watching the TV show called The Joy of Painting back in the 1980s or 1990s—and finding it hard to stay awake while doing it. Now an app lets the soothing baritone voice of Bob Ross, the host of the show, help you once again catch some sleep.
From 1983 to 1994, millions tuned in to the popular PBS show to see the gentle-mannered, soft-spoken artist Bob Ross. As he swished paint onto canvas to create “happy little trees,” majestic mountains and fluffy clouds, Ross tossed out comments about painting—and life—in a soothing voice that rarely rose above a whisper. Now, 23 years after his death, Ross has become an Internet celebrity and pop-culture icon, and his insightful adages espousing self-compassion and acceptance are still widely quoted. Many consider him an early pioneer of a kind of meditation called mindfulness, though that’s not something he talked about on his show.
The hypnotic quality of Ross’s voice, together with the background tapping and swishing sounds of brush on canvas, also captured the attention of the mindfulness meditation company Calm. It licensed sound tracks from The Joy of Painting show from Ross’s estate and recast them into an audio app, part of their collection of “Sleep Stories,” fiction and nonfiction “bedtime stories” that were recorded specifically to be soothing to listen to.
There’s some science, albeit accidental, behind falling asleep to the sound of Bob Ross. One reason The Joy of Painting, and Ross’s voice in particular, is so soothing could be that it evokes something called the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR)—also dubbed “brain tingles,” “brain orgasm,” and sometimes even the “Bob Ross effect.” ASMR is a physical and mental response that some people report happens when they hear such sounds as pencil on paper, tapping fingers, whispered tones or crinkling paper or when they watch someone perform a repetitive task, such as folding laundry. ASMR induces a state of euphoric relaxation, and for some people it triggers a tingling feeling in their heads that can extend down their backs and arms. And it induces sleep—or “happy little zzzs.”
If you want to try the app, it is available by subscription for $59.99/year, starting with a seven-day free trial, from Calm.com, Apple (for Apple devices) and Google (for Android devices). Look for the recordings titled “Happy Little Zzzs with Bob Ross” and “Painting with Bob Ross” in the Sleep Stories section of the app.
Wondering what Ross would think of his show being turned into an insomnia aid? Actually, back in the day, some viewers used to write to him saying that his show put them to sleep—and rather than being insulted, he was charmed. As he would have said, “There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.”