Five of the best podcasts: sleep-inducing sounds and stories

There’s a podcast for that

Crashing bores, perfectly dreary reads – and a natural soundscape that hits all the right night-time notes

The recent boom in “sleep podcasts” encompasses a range of aims: some provide short-term relief each night, while others help build a bedtime routine. The Headspace app, which aims to make mindfulness techniques habitual through bite-size lessons, extends that mission into the bedroom with its Sleepcasts. The 45- to 55-minute “audio journey” begins with a meditation or breathing exercise to wind down, before sending you to sleep with an audio tour through a soothing scene. In the episode I tried, it was a gallery where all the paintings were blue. The seven-part Headspace Guide to Sleep video series might strike a compromise for those struggling with the first rule of good sleep hygiene: no screens.

Drew Ackerman came up with the concept for Sleep With Me after finding, at parties, that the people he was chatting to often seemed eager to excuse themselves to go to the bathroom. Having struggled with insomnia since childhood, and finding most “sleep solutions” to be off-puttingly po-faced, Ackerman decided to use his talent for boring people to help them drift off. Now millions seek out his company, with Sleep With Me celebrating its eighth anniversary this month. Speaking as the affable, absentminded “Dearest Scooter” (and after a short preamble, including ads), Ackerman tells a circular and confused story that you will never hear the end of. He is so good at what he does, he can even make Game of Thrones lower the pulse, recapping episodes in his spin-off pod Game of Drones.

Finding out what works for you requires experimentation: one person’s bedtime wind-down might be counterproductive for another, as evidenced by the large (one might say, perturbing) number of people who choose to drift off to violent stories of true crime. Even some designated sleep aids can be more unsettling than soothing (like Sleep Whispers, where a man mutters about baked trout or Stonehenge). If you find any words intrusive, BBC Radio 3’s Slow Radio series creates soundscapes to lull you to sleep. Billed as an “antidote to today’s frenzied world”, the 30-minute episodes combine music with field recordings from the natural world, from crashing waves to the crunch of gravel underfoot. And with the monthly “Sounds of the Earth” compilation, you can travel the globe from your bed.

This weekly ad-free podcast brings together the relaxing effect of reading before bed with material where you won’t mind losing your place. Host Sharon Handy (creator of the Great British Bake Off podcast Gin and Cake) calmly and quietly reads from a “not-at-all-riveting” book available in the public domain. Most are nonfiction works from the turn of the century, and range from the esoteric – such as Ernest Ingersoll’s “early history of boats” The Book of the Ocean, published in 1898 – to classic titles you might have always intended to read, like Aurelius’s Meditations. If you learn something before you fall asleep mid-sentence, well, that’s just a bonus. (And yes, listening to a book definitely counts as having read it.)

One does not simply “put on a podcast” to send kids off to sleep, my friend with a three-year-old tells me sternly: for little ones, any stimulus around bedtime needs to be carefully vetted and deployed. Goodnight, World! gets an immediate thumbs up from him. A partnership between Headspace and Sesame Street (and featuring some of its familiar faces), the podcast helps children wind down and transition into restful sleep, while easing the challenges for parents. My friend was impressed that it struck the balance between a bedtime story and a sleep aid, despite being only 20 minutes long, and singled out the palpable care put into production. The real measure of success? His son was asleep by the time it finished.

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