I must admit that it never occurred to me that a podcast could be like a quasi-bedtime story, where instead of being cradled by a kindly grandmother weaving tales of wolves and witches, one cradles a mini-computer and listens to Terry Gross contemplate micro-dosing. Perhaps not as cozy, but the result can be the same: sweet, deep slumber. Apparently, there are many folks out there who use podcasts as sleep aids. So to help these poor insomniac nerds out, I’ve rounded up some of the best snooze-worthy podcasts to fall asleep to.
Again, I've never really utilized podcasts in this fashion. My prime podcast listening time tends to be either riding the subway or cleaning the bathroom. Which means I now associate the deep timbre of Ira Glass’s voice with the smell of bleach and an angry person asking me for a dollar. I use podcasts to make mundane activities more interesting. So the idea of seeking out the opposite — a podcast so boring it lulls one into unconsciousness — is rather intriguing.
But it's of course important to choose one's bedtime podcast wisely. A quick glance at iTunes leads me to believe at least 98 percent of podcasts are about someone being murdered, yes? Not exactly the stuff of sweet dreams. But I hereby pledge the below list to be soothing, and to contain zero murders.
1. Classical Music Discoveries
Of course. Because nothing makes the lids droop quite like a little harpsichord, am I right? Each episode is about an hour long, and features renowned pianists and violinists from around the world, who I'm sure would be delighted to know they've spent their lives mastering an instrument so that they may assist prone people in sweatpants with drooling into their pillows. Bonus: Some of the more balletic pieces might add a little flare to your nightmares, so that when you're being chased by a German Shepherd made of cheese, the cheddar hound might leap into a grande jeté.
2. Sleep With Me
Perhaps the most popular go-to for people seeking the ultimate in boring podcasts, this features Drew Ackerman, a man with a low, odd voice who tells meandering, painfully boring stories about whatever pops into his head. He recently did a series called "Game of Drones," where he dissected minute details of the Stark family, etc, and it is truly a master class in tedium.
Ackerman has struggled with insomnia himself, and he purposely set out to create a wildly uninteresting program. You know how on Thanksgiving, when all you want to do is go to bed but instead your Aunt Susan's new boyfriend goes into an endless, detailed description of his knee surgery recovery, and it takes the strength of 1000 men to keep your eyelids open? That's what this is.
3. Sleep Whispers
Described as "whispered ramblings for relaxation and sleeping," this is literally someone softly uttering random bits of whatever, everything from poems to Wikipedia articles to silly anecdotes. It's a simple enough concept — sort of the grown of version of someone leaning over your bed and whispering "Shhhhh....there there..."
I guess my only concerns here would be that: 1. Someone whispering in my ear while I'm lying in the dark might make me feel like I am about to be murdered or 2. I might worry that mid-program the whispers might instruct me to murder someone else. So I guess I lied about the no murder thing. This podcast does contain a vaguely murder-y element. At least for me.
4. Slow Radio
This one comes via the BBC. And while I was hoping it would maybe just be a loop of Colin Firth slowly reading the lyrics to "When Doves Cry", it's perhaps for the best that it's not, as that would certainly be more rousing than calming. It's actually a series of nature recordings, featuring "the sounds of birds, mountain climbing, and monks chatting as you go about your day. A lo-fi celebration of pure sound." I admit it is quite soothing to listen to, and definitely helps to block out my usual nighttime soundtrack of ambulance sirens and my neighbors' (quite theatrical) lovemaking.
Though I'm not entirely sure what "mountain-climbing" sounds like? If it's me, it sounds like someone sighing and saying "When can we sit down?" and "Where's the beef jerky?" over and over. But maybe they mean the sounds one hears from wildlife? The wind?
5. Story Not Story
I don't know how sleep-inducing this one really is, but I find the concept amusing. It features a married couple named Craig and Chyna who tell each other ridiculous bedtime stories that they make up on the spot. Their storytelling skills aren't, shall we say, stellar. I mean I don't know that Aesop would have paused from his fables and pulled up a chair. But I find their dynamic charming. They kind of capture those sweetly weird conversations you have with your spouse at bedtime, when you're both exhausted and not making a ton of sense. Which makes me wonder if my husband and I should start our own podcast? I'm sure listeners would be riveted by our most recent discussion on what happens to ejaculate in space.
6. Nothing Much Happens
Kathryn Nicolai is a yoga instructor who has always told herself little bedtime stories as a way of lulling herself to sleep. In her podcast, she shares these little tales with listeners, all in her gentle downward-dog-instructor voice. The stories are sweet and simple, and yes, nothing much happens in them. Her most recent episode is about "a sunny summer day by the lake, solitude, and strawberries."
Nicolai clearly knows how hard it can be to calm one's mind. As she says on her site: "If you are trying to get a good night's sleep after spending an hour or so scrolling through upsetting news, cruel comments, and terrifying articles, you know this is true." Her stories can offer some soothing relief after scanning the latest headline on Iran.
7. Meditation Minis
With this one, hypnotherapist Chel Hamilton leads you through a mini, guided meditation. They're all short — around eight to 10 minutes long — and finally allow you to do exactly what you always want to do when attempting to meditate: fall asleep.
Each one has a theme, like overcoming old hurts or letting go of past resentments. Many of us probably already use 1 a.m. as the ideal time for cataloging old hurts and resentments. We just don't get to the "letting go" part, and instead get heartburn and then mumble angrily at our partners for eating all of the chewable Tums. But with Mediation Minis, you do the cataloging, then let Chel act as the chewable Tum...for your mind.
Storyteller Otis Gray has the kind of deep baritone that is just deeply comforting, and conjures images of Gregory Peck sitting at the edge of your comforter, telling you "not to worry, child, just rest your sleepy little head now." Gray reads 30 to 40-minute snippets from classic novels and short stories — things like The Count of Monte Cristo, Moby Dick, and The Secret Garden. It's a bedtime story in the most classic sense, creating a tranquil, old timey vibe for your brain.
Interesting note: Gray also has a photo of himself naked and standing on a mountain on his "About" page. In case you like to have a vivid picture of your storyteller's buttocks in mind before settling in for the night.
9. The Auracle
This is one for fans of ASMR. For the uninitiated, ASMR is that weird tingly feeling some people get on their head and down their neck from certain kinds of stimuli — often the sound of people whispering or fingers tapping or scratching at something. For some, this is extremely relaxing, and sort of like an auditory version of using one of those metal scalp massagers.
This podcast is devoted to triggering an ASMR response, and features lots of whispering, breathing, and cricket noises. It ended in 2016, but with 54 old episodes still on iTunes, there is still a treasure trove of sighs and tongue clicks to choose from.
This technically isn't meant to put people to sleep, and I do realize there are many who would be sitting at the edge of the bed riveted at the very mention of front-end frameworks. But for me, this is the equivalent of Brahm's lullaby being played on a harp made of Ambien. I simply do not understand a single word of what these smarty engineers are talking about. Yet, I enjoy the way they talk about it. It's all discussed in such a pleasant, genial way, and all seems to concern problems that can be solved via a few zeros and ones. Put it on, lie back, and you'll be asleep faster than you can say "event-driven stylesheet templating."