Looking for sleep-inducing podcasts
May 7, 2011 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Sleep sounds: do you have any podcasts or music you find it useful to listen to to help you to fall asleep? Or recommendations which might fit the criteria of the podcasts I currently use to help me to fall asleep - calm voices, very few sudden increases in speech volume or musical interludes, subject matter which is interesting but not urgent.

I'd be amazed if this hasn't come up before, but searching for "podcast", "insomnia" and "sleep" doesn't bring anything up, so...

I have irregular sleep patterns, partly as a result of often needing to work very late, partly for the usual 21st century nerd reasons. Fairly recently, in an attempt to combat two of the things that often keep me awake once I am in bed - the dawn chorus and the part of my brain which would like to be dreaming (it's hard to explain this if you haven't experienced it, but anyone who has will know what I mean) - I bought a pair of headphones designed for wearing in bed.

At first I tried white noise, but it turns out that white noise is really boring if you have to listen to it for long periods. So, I've started listening to podcasts instead. This seems to keep my brain a little occupied, and also helps me to keep a sleep diary (because I can estimate when I fell asleep from when I went to bed + how far into the podcast I remember).

The problem is, on a bad night I might end up listening to a lot of podcasts, and over a week I run out. So, I was wondering if people could recommend any more.

Supplemental info

Things that help me to sleep - talking rather than music1. More than one voice is fine. "Calm" voices are predictably good. English accents seem to be more soporific (no offence meant, old chaps, chums and beans). Subject matter which is interesting, but not pressing current affairs or matters of urgency. Unpredictable air horn discharges probably sub-optimal. A bit of length is nice, to avoid having to fiddle around with my iPod and have its screen light up in my eyes if it runs out. I realize playlists are an option...

So far successful:

This American Life
Kermode and Mayo's film reviews
WNYC Radiolab
The Best Show on WFMU (without music)
The Bugle (if one can get past the bloody cock-crow at the start)
Susan Stuart's series of lectures on Kant's Epistemology (now played to death, sadly)
Judge John Hodgman

I'd like to be able to listen to video games, technology or comic book discussion, but they tend either to have vocal and excitable hosts or musical interludes: any recommendations gratefully received. Presence on the iTunes music store would be handy, but not a necessity.

1 That said, I'd love to listen to music, but the traditionally recommended soothing sounds of whalesong and wind chimes make me want to set fire to cars. I was thinking of putting the soundtracks of Minecraft or Zen Bound as playlists and putting them on a loop... if people have recommendation for music that particularly aids sleep, that could also be interesting.
posted by running order squabble fest to Health & Fitness (43 answers total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
My SO really really likes falling asleep to the BBC World Service, though he just tunes it in on the radio. Newsy, measured, very rarely excitable. It is sort of current affairs, but if you listen to the current affairs of countries you don't know much about, it's sort of interesting [to me] in a non-urgent way.
posted by jessamyn at 9:50 AM on May 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Not a podcast, but I'm amazed how well I fall asleep to my police scanner app. Sounds totally nerdy, but the low static buzz and the calm voices that never reach above a certain pitch knock me out completely.
posted by Laura Macbeth at 9:53 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like BBC's In Our Time. It's a 40-minute roundtable of (usually British) intellectual experts on an academic topic of general interest. Topics can be anywhere from "The Nervous System" to "The Battle Of Bannockburn". Voices are tweedy, and things typically stay calm.

My only problem with it is that I'm usually really interested in the subject matter, yet the voices put me right to sleep.
posted by Sara C. at 10:01 AM on May 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

Any chance you live in a city? The weather is perfect for open window sleeping.

I LOVE falling asleep to city noise. The neighbors on the corner listening to ranchera music from their truck. The guys fixing the pot hole on the next street over. Distant sirens. The woman in the apartment across from mine softly singing to her baby. The sounds of people climbing up the back steps. Birds chirping.

It's great. There's too much going on to be distracted by one particular noise, so that's not a worry. The fact that there's always so much happening is really soothing. It's like the city is saying "it's ok, you go to sleep. We've got it covered."

If you don't live in a city, you have my sympathies. When I visit my parents (who live in suburban sprawl hell), it takes me forever to fall asleep. Perhaps there are ambient city noise recordings out there somewhere.
posted by phunniemee at 10:08 AM on May 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: That's what I like about podcast, Sara C - I know if I fall asleep I can listen to it again the next day.

(Which is the only problem with the otherwise wonderful World Service, jessamyn - I find myself suddenly passionately interested in the future of a fledgling Kenyan hi-tech company or the first Sondheim retrospective to be performed entirely in Igbo. Sometimes I think my brain doesn't like me.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:10 AM on May 7, 2011

Best answer: Oh, I have stumbled on podcasts as a sometime sleep aid, too. When they don't get too interesting! After a year or two of this, I find myself a bit of an addict. From your choices, I suspect you might like:

*I've had absolutely the best luck with Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!, the game show/news quiz, which allows its minor celebrity guests, among others, to cheat. It's definitely amusing, but as you so aptly put it, by no means urgent.

*Also good is Slate's Culture Gabfest, an informal but intelligent discussion of three of the week's major cultural events, including the usual music and movies, as well as the occasional art opening and opera.

*For soothing voices, you couldn't do any better than Fresh Air with Terri Gross. This show largely consists of interviews with newsmakers and cultural personalities of all kinds. At it's best it's wildly engrossing, in an oddly intimate way--partly because of Gross's voice. At it's worst, the topic just won't interest you.

*To the Best of Our Knowledge (TTBook) is similar to This American Life. It too builds a show around a loose theme, then has four or five storytellers, interview guests, etc. discuss the topic in surprisingly varied ways.

*Finally, I match your epistemology, with Dr. S.D. Lee of Oxford University. His Medieval English lectures rock!
posted by Violet Blue at 10:12 AM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Re: footnote 1, have you tried Pzizz? It's not the evil windchimes, and it's not white noise or music. It's something else. You can add voice to it, it's quite flexible. I'm not usually into such things but I've found Pzizz to be rather remarkable. It can put me to sleep for the night or even put me to sleep and then wake me for a nap of customizable length. Worth a shot.

I've tried using podcasts in the way that you describe, but it's not a reliable tool--an unexpected laugh or sound or music bump can jolt me awake.
posted by quarterframer at 10:25 AM on May 7, 2011

I used to listen to Malcolm Gladwell books, and when I listened at night I found his voice put me to sleep pretty easily, even though I was interested in what he was saying. I started listening on purpose when I had trouble sleeping and just re-listened the next day.
posted by swingbraid at 10:37 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had to give up on Stephen Fry's podgrams because I could never stay awake through a whole one. They're interesting enough but that voice... He has a lovely rich British accent so it might work similarly for you.

I've also been listening to the Country Rain download from archives.org listed in this previous thread, which is a recording of rain falling on a roof. White noise puts my teeth on edge but this does a good job of drowning things out and telling my brain to be quiet (although it makes me fool cold sometimes). I figured I'd throw it in there as something else to try.
posted by shelleycat at 10:48 AM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I like to listen to guided meditations when I can't relax enough to sleep. There are lots all over the web, but I've used these ones before.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:52 AM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Zencast podcasts are great for this, especially the ones with the soothing tones of Gil Fronsdal. The first half of a lot of these are very interesting... someday I'll catch the second halves..

Falling asleep to soothing British accents is the traditional function of The Shipping Forecast.
posted by Erasmouse at 11:01 AM on May 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I am also an insomniac who listens to podcast to fall asleep (or at least keep myself occupied while I am not sleeping). In particular, I listen to TTBOOK (as mentioned above), Selected Shorts Podcast, Studio 360, Suspense Replay, Philosopher's Zone, The New Yorker Fiction podcast, Planet Money podcast, and anything sciencey (like Science Friday with Ira Flatow). Oh, also The News from Lake Wobegon (I love falling asleep to Garrison Keillor).
posted by Felicity Rilke at 11:02 AM on May 7, 2011

Most of the News and Current event podcasts from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would probably be right up your alley, particularly "Ideas" and "Quirks and Quarks".
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:05 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I fall asleep to the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast. It works a treat as it's interesting but not too emotionally engaging.
posted by hot soup girl at 11:09 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Since it's that time of the year we listen to baseballs games in the evening, sometimes just before bed. I don't even really like baseball but the sound of the broadcasters and low hum of the game in the background is incredibly soothing. If you look up Major League Baseball you can get access to the games. (there might be a small fee.)
posted by Rocket26 at 11:09 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Personally, Thievery Corporation's music always works for me.
posted by you're a kitty! at 11:31 AM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not a podcast, but I have the Ambiance application on my iphone. There are different kinds of sounds (ocean, rain, campfire, etc...) you can download (for free) -- it varies more than white noise, but the volume stays relatively the same.
posted by elmay at 11:38 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I listen to Mark Crislip's review of the infectious disease literature for the past two weeks to instill sleep. He's enough of a smartass to maintain a bit of interest for me, but the long bacterial names put me to sleep as well. And if I don't fall asleep, I learn something.
posted by telophase at 11:43 AM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Any movie commentary featuring Bey Logan (martial arts flicks) or Richard Schickel or Alain Silver (both old noir). I fall asleep to one of these guys almost every night.
posted by carsonb at 12:00 PM on May 7, 2011

Not podcasts as such, but radio shows from the forties and fifties are great for this kind of thing.
posted by peppermind at 12:26 PM on May 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Clarkesworld audio fiction. Read by Kate Baker, who has the most wonderfully soothing voice. These are all speculative fiction stories, and having them read to me at night is reminiscent of that scene in The City Of Lost Children, where the clones must make up dreams for the evil Krank. These stories, and they're reading style, put me in a dream like state in minutes, and then I wake up in the morning amazed that I ever used to have problems sleeping.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 12:47 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I love Originz, Mysteries Abound and Bizarre Bazaar for this type of listening.

They're all done by this Australian guy, Paulrex, with the most mellifluous voice and soothing manner imaginable. He used to be a science teacher, but is now semi-retired. He could seriously be a pro radio guy, though - he totally has the voice for it.

The content is basically interesting clippings from around the internet. He reads them in their entirety and provides links in his show notes, so you can go re-read anything that you were half-listening to. I highly recommend them. Even his interstitial and background music choices are great - smooth, interesting, but not intrusive. I think they'd make perfect go-to-sleep listening.
posted by clerestory at 1:02 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's audio talks and meditations. Deep voice, slow speech rhythm, some silences.
posted by jchgf at 2:47 PM on May 7, 2011

The BBC's "History of the World Through 100 Objects" is a great series.

Brian Eno's Music for Airports is also extremely soothing.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:55 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also seconding the above suggestion of listening to a baseball game.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:01 PM on May 7, 2011

Laura Macbeth's suggestion up-thread of the police scanner is totally true for me too. Not only that (and sorry it's not a podcast) but I have great success falling asleep to CSI (Vegas, Miami, NY, whatever). I don't know why. Perhaps it's the more monotone voices/sounds. Honestly, it's the only way I can fall asleep when I need a nap.
posted by Sassyfras at 4:16 PM on May 7, 2011

Response by poster: Man, this is awesome. Thanks, everyone!
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:08 PM on May 7, 2011

Another non-podcast suggestion: I've recently been listening to the audiobook of The Graveyard Book, narrated by Neil Gaiman. His calm, English voice is incredibly soothing, and is sending me to sleep pretty quickly! (I've had to repeat each chapter about three times, because I keep on falling asleep and missing things.)
posted by celerity at 6:27 PM on May 7, 2011

I must second Pzizz. I have on occasion put Pzizz sleep tracks on my Kindle (the only thing I have with speakers on it) and they work nicely, though I have to leave the voice turned off. Unfortunately Pzizz's nap tracks don't help me sleep, but they are wonderful for relaxation. One of the best software investments I've ever made.
posted by lhauser at 7:07 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

... calm voices, very few sudden increases in speech volume or musical interludes, subject matter which is interesting but not urgent.

New Yorker Out Loud podcasts hit all these notes. They're not very long, and they only come out once a week, but there's a huge archive available.
posted by marsha56 at 7:25 PM on May 7, 2011

The History of Rome, 12 Byzantine Emperors, Norman Centuries, and Naked Science are my go-to podcasts for falling asleep. I also listen to The Astronomy Cast, but the guy's voice can be a little less than relaxing sometimes.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:57 PM on May 7, 2011

As a fellow video game lover, the Giant Bombcast is not only informative and dryly funny (The New Yorker once referred to them as "charmingly garrulous") but I have gone to bed listening to it and found myself asleep more times than I would like to admit.
posted by haqspan at 8:11 PM on May 7, 2011

ABC's The Night Air is perfection for insomnia.
posted by sherman at 8:36 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like to listen to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com. (It's in iTunes of course.) Josh & Chuck are very soothing and yesterday I listened to them while I had a migraine. It was very relaxing.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:25 PM on May 7, 2011

Nthing A history of Rome, also, without a doubt, taped university lectures are the absolute best for this, hands down. I mean, who didn't have trouble staying awake at uni?

I use Berkeley's constantly, and for reccs, the DIY scholar, and Baxter Wood.
posted by smoke at 12:45 AM on May 8, 2011

I go through phases of listening to or watching various things at night to go to sleep. For me it works to listen to the same recording over and over again - for over a year I listened to a double-cassette version of Claudia Shear reading "Blown Sideways Through Life". I set up the cassette player so it didn't automatically turn the tape over and I had a choice each night of which tape to listen to. For another long period I listened to Tim O'Brien reading "The Things They Carried," every night. The stories were interesting enough to stop my brain from buzzing, but familiar enough that I didn't care if I fell asleep while listening to them.
posted by bendy at 2:57 PM on May 8, 2011

Music wise, I don't think you should restrict yourself to supposedly 'zen' or 'calm' music. Anything that isn't too up-tempo or loud should do. I especially like the kind of 15 minute meandering songs that just keep going and going and going, often prog rock and ambient rock and whatever you might call it. Stuff like this.

For me personally, one of the most surreal things I've fallen asleep with has been Apocalypse Now, specifically those river scenes. Insanely trippy if you fade in and out of sleep during that.

Alternatively, have you tried reading a book, without any kind of noise in your ears?\
posted by Harry at 1:58 PM on May 9, 2011

Response by poster: Alternatively, have you tried reading a book, without any kind of noise in your ears?

Good question! Supplemental info:

I sometimes read on my phone screen in bed, or with my kindle and an LED light, which I saw recommended on Ask MetaFilter to help tire the eyes out, but I can't "drift off" with a reading light on (and I am a bit nervous about rolling onto my phone (expensive) or my Kindle (cheap but fragile) in way I am not with my iPod). Generally, if I'm reading, I'm reading - that bit of my brain seems to be able to override the sleeping part. Also, I'm often going to bed around dawn on bust nights, when no noise in my ears at all isn't really an option - I'm surrounded by loud bird life.

I actually hadn't thought of talking books at all, which is a really interesting option, and might be a good compromise.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:10 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not really a podcast, but any of the old Bond movies tend to do the trick for me and put me to sleep...
posted by MechEng at 9:18 AM on May 11, 2011

Glen Hauser's World Of Radio
All those frequencies and times just put me to sleep plus you get to learn about the oddity and international intrigue of shortwave broadcasting.
posted by sleepytako at 6:27 PM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

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