Health and Fitness

Best Podcasts for Insomniacs: When You Really, Really Can't Sleep

These are precision-tooled to help you drift off.

It's 4.13am. You roll over for what feels like the thousandth time. You've tried the duvet-between-the-knees trick, the pillow flip, the exasperated flop about. You're all out of ideas. You've got to be up and out of the house in about three hours. What to do?

As with most problems, the solution is to stick a podcast on and wait it out. But you don't want any hardball political analysis, knockabout zaniness or—god forbid—two blokes sat in a spare room talking about films. You want something specifically constructed to help you drift off. These six podcasts will do exactly that. Night night.

1| "Sleepy"

There are very few things more comforting than being read to. One of those very few things is being read to by someone like Otis Gray, a man blessed with levels of gravel to his voice which would make Sean Dyche and Tom Waits grunt appreciatively. Gray reads from the canon of English and American literature, with most choices falling into two broad categories. There's your big hitting classics—The Picture of Dorian Grey, To the Lighthouse, Sense and Sensibility, Of Mice and Men, James Joyce's, and your cherished childhood tales like The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan, and The Secret Garden. Listen to Sleepy here


2| "I Can't Sleep"

If that sounds a bit too engaging, try listening to a man read Wikipedia overviews of completely unremarkable subjects. Wind. Yarn. Delaware Route 9A. Benjamin Boster reads through all these slightly dry subjects and more with an unhurried-to-the-point-of-catatonia , his state mission being "to bore you to sleep with my soothing voice". It's like being at the back of a General Studies class on a sunny late-May afternoon, which, scientifically speaking, is one of the most potent snooze-inducing environments it's possible to evoke. Listen to I Can't Sleep here

3| "Sleep With Me"

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Oo-er, etc. This one from PRX, makers of This American Life, has been running for 791 episodes, and it's built almost completely around the meandering monologue of 'Dearest Scooter', a character played by host Drew Ackerman. Scooter's got a very beguiling air about him, always sounding like he's dithering between thoughts and sentences, but he's very sincere when he says that he's there to create a safe feeling around you and keep you company as you drift off. Other characters pop up here and there, but mainly it's slightly off-kilter recaps of misremembered Doctor Who episodes and the ongoing adventures of Nuns In Space. Listen to Sleep With Me here

4| "Slow Radio"

Photo by BBC.

Remember a couple of years ago when there was a bit of a vogue for TV programmes which showed things happening in real time? There was that one where a camera was stuck on the front of a narrow boat pootling along the Kennet and Avon Canal for two hours, and another following the Northern Dalesman bus as it trundled from Richmond toward Ribblehead. This podcast has a similar vibe, conjuring up richer soundscapes than your common-or-garden sleep pod and adding gentle on-topic musical interludes and field recordings from unexpected locales like the zoo at night and the eerie Pennines. Listen to Slow Radio here


5| "In Our Time"

Photo by BBC.

We've shouted for Melvyn Bragg's academic roundtable before in our general podcast round-up, and its combination of esoteric subject matter, unhurried pace and Bragg's reassuring Cumbrian tones along with his guests' earnest, hushed discussions makes it ideal to drop off with. This one on the function and interpretation of dreams is an apt one to start with, then dig into the 860 episode-strong archive for discussions on philosophy, history, science, religion and culture. Pick anything - Renaissance magic, the Lindisfarne Gospels, Karl Popper's philosophy—and even if you don't drift off to sleep, you'll certainly learn something. Listen to In Our Time here

6| "Sleep Meditation Podcast"

Photo by APPLE.

There are a lot of ASMR-adjacent podcasts which purport to be sleep aids, but more often than not they turn out to be exercises in pretending that 'rainy night' is in any way different to follow-up episodes called 'rainy morning' or 'stormy evening in Montreal' or 'drizzly October afternoon'. This one stands out though. It creates extremely specific soundscapes requested by listeners—a bedroom with a dehumidifier running, a Japanese garden, a rainstorm but with a quiet breeze and some crickets and a low-level hum in the background—and creates them with admirable attention to detail. Listen to Sleep Meditation Podcast here

This story originally appeared on edits have been made by the editors.

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