Can you suggest dull and informative podcasts to help me fall asleep?
January 16, 2014 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Sometimes I have trouble falling asleep because I can't stop worrying over issues of the day. I've found that listening to a slightly boring podcast really helps in those situations. So far, I've been listening to history podcasts but I think the technique would work with other subject areas and I'd like to find more such podcasts. I'm looking for intelligent and serious podcasts (little to no humorous banter) on important and/or academic topics. Ideally, the presenters would have monotonous voices and would spend a bit too much time on the dull minutiae, but the subject matter would be sufficiently interesting to help me stop thinking about other issues. I don't want to hear a group of friends or colleagues bantering. I don't want to hear comics interviewing each other. Pseudo-science or woo won't help because I may respond emotionally.
posted by Area Man to Media & Arts (41 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
In Our Time. It's perfect.
posted by General Malaise at 8:28 AM on January 16, 2014 [15 favorites]

By no means "dull", but Alan Watts' podcasts on philosophy and Eastern thought often have a soporific effect on me. They're very thoughtful, wonderful podcasts, and his voice is great to listen to. Informative, yes!

Used to be free, but now $35 on iTunes.
posted by ecorrocio at 8:33 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

History of philosophy without any gaps is interesting and informative but a little dry.
posted by crazy with stars at 8:48 AM on January 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

I agree with General Malaise: In Our Time would work. You might also want to check out the New Books Network.
posted by HoraceH at 8:55 AM on January 16, 2014

Not a podcast, but The Great Courses on audible work well for this purpose.
posted by dchrssyr at 8:58 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I remember listening to some very soporific military history podcasts, but I can't remember the names.
posted by mskyle at 9:00 AM on January 16, 2014

Not podcasts, but I get the same effect from DVD commentaries by directors and/or technical staff (as opposed to actors).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:03 AM on January 16, 2014

I wouldn't call them dull, but I do this exact thing at night with Stuff You Should Know. Often I have to listen to the same podcast for an entire week before I've heard the whole thing. There are over 500 episodes, each around 30min long, so more than enough content to last you for a very long time.
posted by cgg at 9:06 AM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History. Nine hours on the rise and fall of the Mongol Empire! Among other things.
posted by something something at 9:14 AM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Ship Report is absolutely perfect for this. I've been using it to fall asleep for years and now have a curiously thorough knowledge of all kinds of maritime issues as a result.
posted by HotToddy at 9:19 AM on January 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

I use the first episodes of opencourseware videos (the kind that are just recordings of an actual class somewhere). 30-60 minute monologues introducing a topic and going over the syllabus.
posted by wam at 9:20 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Planet Money is my insomnia go-to. Something about the words "Federal Reserve" that put me right to sleep...
posted by chaiminda at 9:26 AM on January 16, 2014

I don't know if this is already in your list of history podcasts but my favorite sleepytime podcast is BackStory. The Splendid Table is a cooking show that also works well - not academic but definitely lingers over minutiae.
posted by waterlily at 9:48 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fresh Air does it for me. Terry Gross has such a soothing voice.
posted by bunderful at 9:49 AM on January 16, 2014

I use BBC World Service and The Economist - All Audio for this.
posted by ellieBOA at 9:52 AM on January 16, 2014

May or may not pass the woo criteria for you, but I know several people who listen to Deepak Chopra and go right to sleep.
posted by Jacen at 10:04 AM on January 16, 2014

My current set of podcasts, which I use for exactly the same reason:

The history of philosophy without any gaps
Philosophize this
The history of the crusades
Hardcore history
Welcome to nightvale.
The ancient world.
posted by empath at 10:05 AM on January 16, 2014

I suggest Econtalk ( ). The format is the host and one guest talking for an hour. No musical interludes, interesting topics discussed seriously, not much humor.
posted by metadave at 10:29 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

The absolute best thing I found for insomnia-listening was Karen Armstrong's voice. She has written a bunch of interesting books about theology and religious history, and the audiobook of one of them might have saved my life last year, when my life was not going well and I had a lot of trouble sleeping.

For podcasts, I second The Ancient World (I have a terrible time listening to those for more than a few minutes, because the speaker's voice is not very engaging). Also To the Best of Our Knowledge.
posted by suelac at 10:40 AM on January 16, 2014

Not a podcast, but I used to use Pzizz to fall asleep. Nowadays I use Sleep as Android to wake me up. Both apps worked great for me.
posted by dobbs at 10:45 AM on January 16, 2014

Quirks and Quarks
posted by O9scar at 10:45 AM on January 16, 2014

The History of Rome is a great FREE podcast. If you are not really into Roman History, the level of depth in the podcast can be overwhelming. There is like 45 min of podcast on Skippo Africanus, for example. I enjoyed this podcast a lot. It will certainly take your mind of your own life.
posted by Flood at 10:48 AM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I recommend Marek vs. Wyshynski for this. 60 minutes a day devoted to ice hockey!
posted by jazh at 10:51 AM on January 16, 2014

I'd give On the Media a shot.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:34 AM on January 16, 2014

I used Philosophy Bites as my nightly soporific when I used to work a less regular/predictable schedule and sometimes had trouble turning off my brain. I estimate that I've probably heard no more than 7 minutes out of any given 20-minute episode.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:46 AM on January 16, 2014

I feel bad admitting it, because I am otherwise a loyal CBC Radio listener, but dear lord, the Ideas program/lecture series can send me straight to sleep sometimes. I think it's the Canadian version of the first suggestion here, BBC's In Our Time.

Occasionally the episodes are fascinating, so you'll just have to weed those ones out, I guess.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:51 AM on January 16, 2014

I use 99% invisible for this. Not boring but something about Roman Mars's voice is very soothing to me.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 11:59 AM on January 16, 2014

In Our Time was great but I zoned out far too often while listening to it, so it is basically perfect for you.

Likewise, History of Rome and History of Byzantium.

99% Invisible was good too, but it has joined the long list of stuff I no longer get around to listening to.

If you want minutia in an Aussie accent, Pragmatic might be the podcast for you. (I'm actually really enjoying it.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:33 PM on January 16, 2014

"This is a Librivox recording. All Librivox recordings are in the public domain."
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:43 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a pet topic of mine. There are podcasts for jogging, and podcasts for sleeping, and it's important to keep them segregated.

I would say that a lot of the above suggestions have banter and music that would disqualify them for me. To the Best of our Knowledge can be very good, but if you don't know ahead of time that the episode is free of music, sound effects, and shouting, then you're taking a big risk. Similar for CBC Ideas -- Some of the episodes are the perfect combo of sleeping pill and education, while others would be quite horrible for sleeping. Both shows occasionally present some real woo.

The ones I use myself are
Nearly flawless: History of Rome, Lars Brownsworth's series, In Our Time
Pretty good:
Astronomy Cast - super interesting, pretty much never consists of anything but talking, although it can be a tad animated. There is intro music.
ABC Hindsight - too boring, sometimes
ABC Philospher's Zone - Almost entirely low-key interviews from Alan Saunders, whose voice should put anybody to sleep. Unfortunately, they drop in an rare bit of sound effect or music or such. Also, Mr. Saunders died about a year ago, and I haven't listened to the new episodes enough to tell you if it's the same at all anymore. The archives are great, though.
Omega Tau - I think previous to about episode 100, they always threw in a few loud music interludes, but since then have stopped, so that this can be basically as good as In Our Time
Wild Ideas - I've only tried it a little. It's slightly banterish, but no problem, because it's about birdwatching and such.
This Week in Parasitism - If they lost the loud intro music this would be perfect. Their voices are soothing enough. Of course learning about horrible diseases might not make you sleepy.

I suppose The Memory Palace could be perfect, except that I wouldn't want to miss anything from it.
posted by polecat at 1:20 PM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Heritage Podcast (a complete liberal arts education in podcast form) puts me to sleep right away.
posted by MyTwoCentsToo at 1:46 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thirding the History of Rome. It's great!
Also, America's Test Kitchen Radio.
Also, Good Job, Brain!. Sometimes it's a little too interesting/amusing to sleep to, but does the job most of the time.
posted by bluejayway at 2:06 PM on January 16, 2014

Polecat, the new Philosophers Zone keeps up the good work of Saunders. And the new presenter has a very soothing voice.

Most of the suggestions here are ones I would have made except for Good Job Brain and Stuff You Should Know - good podcasts but way too much snazzy music and animated Banter if you are trying to go to sleep.

Revolutions, which is from the same guy who made the amazing History of Rome podcast (both mentioned above) does have a very bombastic opening theme tune, so if you are set to just keep playing through episodes for a set period of time (and they are of different running times) rather than just play one episode you could be roused from your slumbers pretty sharply!

For what it's worth I would recommend In Our Time, The Philosophers Zone, Hardcore History and The History of Rome as all fitting the bill. They are all rather interesting enough to distract you from thinking and worrying about issues while trying to get to sleep, yet in terms of delivery they are all good to drift off to sleep to. I speak from having your exact same problem and listening to these podcasts.
posted by Megami at 2:23 PM on January 16, 2014

Council on Foreign Relations Podcasts
posted by kbuxton at 4:13 PM on January 16, 2014

Just to further my pitch for the Ship Report, which I love immoderately (and fear will be overlooked in the pile of other podcasts), here is what it has to recommend it:

-Intro is soothing Celtic music
-Then she drones on about what ships are in port in Astoria, OR, what their names mean, what cargo they're carrying, what time they'll depart
-Then she does a feature on some maritime subject, like the science of wave action, great sea disasters of history, life aboard a merchant marine vessel, how ships are built, maritime traditions, modern day piracy, duties of different positions such as Columbia River bar pilot, etc. All in a very soothing voice. There is no banter. There is no joking. Once in a great while she does an interview with another sober maritime character. But mostly it's just her talking.
-Outro is soothing Celtic music, which you only dimly hear as you drift into the arms of Morpheus . . .
posted by HotToddy at 4:36 PM on January 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Audiobooks of old novels work for me even when I'm not trying to fall asleep. Your library probably has a bunch.
posted by Comet Bug at 7:16 PM on January 16, 2014

You should stream BBC Radio 4.
posted by leitmotif at 9:27 PM on January 17, 2014

I actually have the same technique for falling asleep! Here's my suggestions.

On Being
Seminars on Long-term Thinking
Big Ideas
Ideas at the House
To the Best of Our Knowledge (though sometimes too many musical interludes)
posted by quadog at 1:26 AM on January 18, 2014

99% Invisible and Ramblings with Clare Balding would be my additions.
posted by BeBoth at 8:19 AM on January 19, 2014

There's an amazing amount of stuff on BBC Radio that's great for this, and easily available through iTunes if that's your thing.

Some of my favorites:

The New Elizabethans
The Radio 3 Documentary - a little heavy at the moment with a focus on Evil, but check out for example the Jan Morris episode
The Radio 3 Essay
The Life Scientific
A History of the World in 100 Objects
A Brief History of Mathematics

and I can't believe no one has mentioned
Great Lives
which pairs nicely with the
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography podcast

I found a lot of great stuff by going to iTunes, going to the main BBC page within iTunes, then clicking the Science & Medicine category (iTunes link). For example, you might like Best of Natural History Radio.

Finally, on this previous AskMe, I suggested anthropology lectures (try either MIT's OpenCourseware or iTunes U), and the OP replied, "I was an anthro PhD student for the past three years. My best naps ever were in my History of Archaeology course."

Sweet dreams!
posted by kristi at 3:18 PM on January 19, 2014

I'm a big fan of How To Do Everything. It's less than 15 minutes and I very rarely make it all the way through without falling asleep. The hosts have somewhat soothing voices and aren't too expressive. Topics are off-the-wall and interesting but not too overly stimulating.

(BTW this is my first post. I hope I didn't break any rules.)
posted by robadobdob at 9:23 PM on July 30, 2014

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