Beat insomnia with the our pick of the podcasts designed to lull you into a gentle slumber.

We all do it – and most of us wish we did more of it. But making sure we get enough quality sleep seems to be harder the more brightly lit information we have at our overworked fingertips; information that crowds out our already-busy brains and makes them whir all night long. Meanwhile, said at-the-touch-of-a-button information constantly drills into us the healing power of sleep and the destructive effects on our health when we do not get the hours we need. And whilst technology may be at least in part responsible for our collective sleeplessness, it can also proffer a solution, thanks to the proliferation of podcasts designed to help us drift off to the land of nod. Here are five of our favourites. Happy listening, sleep tight and sweet dreams.

Sleepy Radio

For insomniacs, this podcast is a dream which may even induce the elusive real thing. In fact, we’ll go so far as to say that Sleepy Radio may just be one of the best, and indeed the simplest, things we’ve ever found on our lengthy voyages round the web. Otis Gray, a storyteller, writer, and freelance radio producer from rural Vermont, is the sleepless genius behind Sleepy Radio, whose raison d'être is to read old books in a sonorous, soothing voice to help you drop off. Conceived of after Gray learned that his deep voice was putting his radio listeners to sleep, he chose to turn that potentially damning review into a positive by actively trying to help others achieve a somnolent state. Choose from 54 episodes and counting, and books that range from To the Lighthouse to Moby Dick to childhood classic, The Secret Garden. We would gripe about the lengthy sponsorship message at the beginning, but Gray’s voice is so rich and restful, he could read the phone book and it would feel reassuring. We’re never going to attempt sleep without him again. Nothing is so comforting or transporting to childhood as being read to, as all the cares of the day are crowded out until only the story matters, and finally sleep swoops stealthily in.

Sleep With Me

This twice-weekly podcast similarly plays on the idea that our parents were, in fact, on to something: bedtime stories really can work. But unlike Otis Gray’s soothing renditions of classic literature, Sleep With Me’s gravelly-voiced insomniac presenter Drew Ackerman takes a more stream-of-consciousness approach to the idea, his rambling tales slowly becoming more and more surreal until the listener finally nods off as they first struggle to follow the train of thought ¬and then give into the idea that, perhaps, they cannot. Here’s a classic Ackerman sample thought train: ‘Anytime you see a cheese with like, a lot of syllables, right, that’s when you’re like, hmm. I just walked in, oh, first of all, what if you just walked into some cheese? Depending on if it’s a soft cheese, that could be a problem…’ Do you follow? Nope, us neither. But his aimless, narrative cul-de-sacs are, as it turns out, exactly what people were after all along. He now has 2.3million monthly downloads; has won countless awards, including one for Best Health Podcast; and even has a spin-off podcast named Game of Drones, which mulls over George RR Martin’s packed plots in a similarly discursive manner.

Atmospheric – Sounds to Help You Sleep

For some insomniacs, no matter how somnolent the tone, the human voice will always be too distracting to drift away to. Enter then Atmospheric, a podcast designed to lull you into unconscious by using sounds primarily from nature, with the odd white noise curveball thrown in. You can take your pick, episode by episode; if counting sheep if your (sleeping) bag, there is an hour solely devoted to bleating. If crashing waves and the cry of seagulls send to you to sleep, there’s a podcast devoted to recordings of the Brighton tide. Or if, a trifle more unusually, you like to get your shut-eye to the soundtrack of an old radiator (there’s always one), you too, sleepless friends, are catered for here. There’s also a rooster in the rain, the sound of the River Mimram and an afternoon thunderstorm to select from. The agony of choice! But don’t let keep you up; any of these simple ideas should disconnect you from busy every day thoughts, retune your mind to nature and, eventually, send you off.

Sleep and Relax ASMR

Sleep and Relax ASMR – the acronym stands for autonomous sensory meridian response – is conceptually similar to Atmospheric, but it takes a more immersive approach. ASMR, a term coined in 2010, denotes a sedative sensation that works on the body from head-to-toe and, since these podcasts are much shorter than the average – anywhere from 18 minutes to under an hour – their creators evidently have faith in their power. Episodes are include ‘Whispered Poems’, ‘Raindrops on a Window for 45 Minutes’, and ‘South American Rainforest’. ‘The Rowboat’ for example, will entice listeners into a dream that they wading gently down a river; and what better way to enter a dream-state than that?

Myths and Legends

For anyone who ever had a childhood (or beyond) interest in mythology – Greek, Roman, Norse, Arthurian, the gamut – this podcast is an utter joy. In the tradition of storytelling to get you to sleep, the pleasingly named presenter Jason (whose surname is sadly not ‘of the Argonauts’), explores the often intricate back stories of the many, many characters that our ancient world forebears knew as well as their own. Think Game of Thrones has an elaborate family tree? Try throwing gods, disgraced god, demi-gods and nymphs into the mix as well. If you want to find out about the lives of Odysseus, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Clytemnestra, and Penelope before the event that changed their worlds and made them famous ever more (the war at Troy), this is the one for you. And whilst, no, it is not specifically designed to make you fall asleep and its content is actually fascinating, there is something about the ancient, long names and their byzantine histories that can be lulling. And if, as they say, you still absorb information after you’ve dropped off to sleep, then this brilliant podcast will ensure that you wake up more knowledgeable than when you went to bed. Win win.


Gifts for Insomniacs

October 2019

By Nancy Alsop