Now that every person on earth has a podcast, you can find one for any topic or need—in fact you can pick your favourite from a whole roster. Say you need a podcast that’s interesting enough to stop your mind from spinning into late-night anxiety; quiet enough to calm you in bed; and boring enough that you don’t stay up an extra hour waiting for the end. We looked at some of the most-recommended podcasts for falling asleep, chose the best, and added several of our own favourites. We also
Pick Your Podcast
You’ll need to find a podcast that fits your taste — but doesn’t fit it so well that you stay awake. Look through the listicles at MakeUseOf, the Ringer, Slate, Mental Floss, Castbox, Stylist, and Refinery29.
Also look at these two threads on Reddit. There are dozens of options, so only try the shows that immediately sound appealing, and cherry-pick episodes. Don’t worry about catching up to the story. Here are some of our favourites:
Desert Oracle Radio
A lot of people like falling asleep to Welcome to Night Vale, the scripted podcast about a desert town where every conspiracy theory is true. But I also recommend its non-fictional counterpart, Desert Oracle Radio.
Host Ken Layne talks like a conservationist Art Bell, with a crotchety growl and a late-night tone of voice that makes even his angriest rants about government cover-ups, the ravages of climate change, and rapacious big business appropriate for the more adventurous insomniac.
Podcasts about folklore feel right for the nighttime. One of my favourites is Mythos. Creator Nicole Schmidt combines storytelling and historical education in each episode, all in a quiet bedtime tone. For instance, in the premiere episode, Schmidt retells specific legends of faeries stealing babies and wreaking other havoc, explains more general faerie beliefs, then explores how the legend of the “fey folk” (as a conquered people hiding in a twilight dimension) might have evolved from Britain’s real history of invasions by conquering peoples.
In Our Time
On In Our Time, British academics discuss one historical figure, era, or concept per episode. I personally find this podcast lively and engaging, as does the Ringer, but several of the blogs above recommend falling asleep to those charming accents and deep dives into the historical significance of, say, Bruegel the Elder. I have to admit, even when I’m particularly interested in the subject, I see how I could drift off as the guests get bogged down in the details.
Other sleepy history podcasts include The History of Rome, The History of England, and Revolutions. And if you make it to the end of In Our Time (at least the more recent episodes), you’ll hear the relaxing final seconds, when the producer steps in and asks who wants a cup of tea.
You should listen to more than one history podcast. But if you have pick just one, pick In Our Time, the venerable BBC radio show and podcast that covers a different topic each episode. It’s your best opportunity to learn a little bit about a lot of things. And it’s the best way to figure out what parts of history really interest you, for further learning.
Story Not Story
Story Not Story describes itself like this: “Married couple, Craig & Chyna, tell each other bedtime stories that they make up on the spot”. That is cute as shit. You can hear them laugh and react to each other’s silly stories. They get a bit more animated than some other sleepy storytellers, so keep your volume down.
But the obvious love between these two hosts makes them very pleasant to listen to, and it might feel cozier than listening to just one host. Craig is Craig Benzine, aka YouTube vlogger Wheezy Waiter. He’s been making videos for 11 years, so some of you will find him comfortingly familiar.
Sleep With Me
Sleep With Me is the most famous sleepytime podcast, currently over 700 episodes in. Host Drew Ackerman, aka Scooter, puts out two hour-long episodes a week. Some are original stories, some are detailed recaps of TV shows like Star Trek: TNG and The Good Place. Scooter frequently digresses about things like McMansions and aliens or just his current state of mind, which helps relieve any building of narrative tension.
I can’t tell if Ackerman is doing a silly voice on purpose, or if he always sounds like that, but either way he’s pleasant to listen to, and the un-serious way he talks makes it easier to stop paying attention and drift off.
Your podcasting app will only show you the 300 most recent episodes, but you can find older episodes of Sleep With Me here. Or skip the TV episodes, plus the long intros and outros, and just listen to the original stories with the Sleep to Strange feed.
Everything Is Alive
Another great waking podcast, Everything Is Alive interviews inanimate objects. NPR producer Ian Chillag interviews comedians and actors who roleplay as things like a lamppost, a bar of soap, or a grain of sand. The interviews are gentle and thoughtful, and the guests (including Anna Fabrega and Maeve Higgins) seem chosen for being friendly and loveable without being cheesy or pandering. I’m still waiting for Joe Pera to appear as, say, a pair of slacks.
Read-aloud fiction podcasts make for great sleeping. Frequent recommendations include the New Yorker’s The Writer’s Voice, in which writers read their own fiction from the magazine, or The Classic Tales Podcast, which features readings of classic short stories and books like Peter Pan, “The Purloined Letter” and “The Descent of Man”.
But I personally prefer The Catapult, hosted by my friend (and sometimes Lifehacker contributor) Jaime Green. The podcast ended in 2016 after 53 episodes, but you can still hear them all. Each brief episode includes readings (fiction and non-fiction) by two authors, and a meditative preamble by Green. Guest authors include Helen Ellis, Jazmine Hughes, Tony Tulathimutte, Michael Ian Black, and Edan Lepucki. The podcast’s website lists more stories by the featured authors.
Bedtime podcast listening isn’t exactly like daytime listening. You’ll want to develop some different habits.
Get yourself Bluetooth headphones. That way you can place your phone out of the way or out of reach, where you’re not as tempted to pick it up and shine its blue light into your face. You’ll also avoid knocking your phone to the floor when you move around in bed.
Choose a cheap pair, or a pair that can take a beating. Then when you’re falling asleep, you can just yank them off and toss them somewhere in your bed or even on the floor.
Before you try falling asleep to a podcast, try it out during the daytime, ideally in the evening. You want to test the sleepiness with a lower risk, so if the show turns out to be too shouty, too lively, or littered with loud ads, you don’t actually lose any sleep.
If you can estimate how quickly you’ll fall asleep — and this may take some trial and error — then use your podcast app’s sleep timer to automatically turn off. The sleep timer is often under a button with a clock icon. Here’s how to activate it on Apple Podcasts:
If you might fall asleep while playing an episode, set the sleep timer. Swipe up, tap the crescent moon Sleep Timer, then choose how long you want the podcast to play. pic.twitter.com/Btwy0g7VPX
— Apple Podcasts (@ApplePodcasts) April 26, 2018
If an episode isn’t working out for you, skip to the next. A good bedtime podcast doesn’t ask you to keep track of an ongoing story line. It’s forgiving enough that you can slip in and out whenever you want. Now sleep soundly, and may you dream of Ira Glass.