TikTok and Twitch Streamers Are Trading Sleep for Cash

Every second Saturday Between the hours of midnight and 4:20 a.m., 26-year-old Mikkel Nielsen is tortured with loud noises, flashing lights and electric shocks. With a camera pointed at his cartoon bedding, the Dane tries to sleep while around 1,000 people watch live on Twitch. Typically, a hundred of these viewers donate money during the broadcast; the amount given affects Nielson’s environment. For $1, viewers can write a message that a bot will read aloud to Nielson and wake him up. For $95, they can wear it via a shock bracelet that wraps around your wrist.

Nielsen is an “interactive sleep streamer,” a type of content creator emerging on Twitch and TikTok. In 2020, WIRED covered the rise of sleep streamers, but those early adopters simply filmed themselves sleeping soundly, a phenomenon that seems antiquated once you’ve seen a man scream and pound his mattress while a high-pitched wail sounds from the your speakers This new box of sleep streamers really doesn’t sleep. They arrange their rooms so that every online donation corresponds to an action, more often than not, one that is loud and annoying.

An Australian TikToker named Jakey Boehm is the sleeper of the moment: in May alone, he earned $34,000 during his streams. Other creators, such as YouTube’s “Asian Andy,” a pioneer of the format, brag about how much they make in videos like, “HOW I EARNED $16,000 WHILE SLEEPING FOR 7 HOURS.” Naturally, they have inspired imitators. My TikTok For You page has been feeding me a lot of amateur sleep streamers recently, from the man with a flour-filled balloon over his head to the woman who’s supposedly getting a bucket of water for only $150. One man is currently asking for 1,000 followers so he can start streaming sleep. (TikTok doesn’t allow users to go live until they reach this threshold.)

For viewers, being able to rob a streamer of sleep is fun, but sleepers are drawn to more extremes to keep the audience entertained. While Boehm initially offered viewers only the chance to control his printer, his setup has become increasingly elaborate: donations can now activate a bubble machine and an inflatable tube man. How does it feel to make money while losing sleep? What is life really like for successful sleep streamers, and should we worry that they inspire unsuccessful ones?

“Every time I do a sleep flow, I’m laughing every night because of the sleep deprivation,” she says Nielsen, which has nearly 1.4 million subscribers across Twitch, TikTok and YouTube combined. Nielsen estimates he’s only had about six minutes of uninterrupted rest in a stream, and even then, he’s never managed to fall asleep completely. He finishes his streams at 4:20 a.m., “plays a weed song,” processes his footage until around 5:30 a.m., and then sleeps until noon.

Nielsen uses the Lumia Stream program to connect its smart lights to its social networks, and viewers are regularly awakened by a bright burst. The If This Then That program also allows you to connect different devices so that, for example, a donation to Twitch can remove your electric shock bracelet or delete a YouTube video. Once, a neighbor’s boyfriend knocked on Nielsen’s door at 3 a.m. with a noise complaint, but then bought $200 worth of alcohol so each of his neighbors would apologize; has not received any complaints since then.

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