Sleep Podcast recommendations from a Psychologist

By Debbie Quackenbush, Ph.D.

Good sleep is fundamental to feeling good during waking hours, and to general mental health.  Ten to fifteen percent of adults suffer from chronic insomnia.  Up to 75 percent of older adults experience insomnia.  Lack of sleep is estimated to cause productivity losses of more than 411 billion USD per year, in the United States alone[1]

Causes of sleeplessness are varied and can be categorized in at least two ways:  causes that interfere with falling asleep and causes that interfere with staying asleep (such as needing to urinate, light sources, or sounds in a room).

From time to time, especially when I work late, I have had some problems falling asleep.   I have developed a sure fire method of getting to sleep and staying asleep that I am going to share with you now.  I discovered sleep podcasts– podcasts which are designed to be boring, bland, and/or have ASMR qualities that will lull you off into a restful slumber.  Below, I provide a short summary about the helpfulness of sleep podcasts and then I have prepared a review of my favorites, as well as a playlist in case you want to try them yourself.

Are Sleep Podcasts Helpful?

To date, I could not find any controlled, randomized research that examined the effects of listening to sleep podcasts. One can find sleep experts offering informed opinions about their effects, however. [2] Many sleep experts seem to acknowledge that they can be helpful, but also worry about playing them all night, since the best recipe for good sleep has been clearly established to be silence.  Other experts worry they could be habit forming and warn users to only use them in moderation. There are, however, a great many anecdotal reports that support the use of sleep podcasts-  particularly for people with nighttime ruminations.  Ruminations are simply defined as  thoughts that play over and over again in your mind.  When they happen at bedtime, they often interfere with falling asleep. 

Which sleep podcast is best?

The following is a light review of a few that I tried with some comments about their pros and cons.  There is no controlled, randomized research which supports one sleep podcast over another, so these comments are simply my opinion.

Sleep with me:  Sleep with me is a very unusual podcast performed by California resident Drew ‘Scooter’ Ackerman.  He warns new users that just listening to him once can be off-putting and that many of his loyal followers (2.3 million downloads a month in 2017) say it took a few tries to learn to appreciate his voice and delivery..  Basically, Scooter rambles for a little over an hour about everything from the latest episode of the Mandalorian, to his favorite type of pizza.  He does so in a really strange, creaky voice that did take me some time to get used to.  He makes efforts  to be inclusive in his podcast which I find to be reassuring. Here is a brief list of pros and cons.

PROS:

  • Quite a lot of his content is free and not behind a paywall
  • Lengthy (a little over an hour) so gives you plenty of time to get to sleep
  • He is purposely inclusive of everyone in his introduction which might make some people feel ‘seen’

CONS: 

  • Some listeners might find him odd and off-putting

Sleep Whispers:  Sleep Whisperers was developed by Dr. Craig Harris Richard– a professor at Shenandoah University in Virginia. He researches  Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) and developed the podcast with the belief that the soothing effects of whispering combined with relatively bland content would help people to sleep.

He goes by the name of ‘Harris’ and he reads everything from Wikipedia articles to directions on how to put together a bed.  I do find his style relaxing though his content is often a bit short for people who take a little longer in getting to sleep.

PROS: 

  • Funny, relaxing content.
  • Some people who are responsive to ASMR stimuli might find his whispering to be effective.

CONS: 

  • He has put quite a bit of content behind a paywall.
  • Content is short compared to others and not so good if it takes you a while to get to sleep.

Nothing much happens:  Kathryn Nicolai, a former yoga and meditation teacher, does something a bit different from the previous two.  She writes her own original content (Harris reads open source content and Scooter just rambles).  She has created a village called ‘Nothingmuch’ where the characters interact and have things happen to them in the most exceptionally bland ways.  A story will be about something that is cozy, but uninteresting.  For example, she might describe a campfire, gathering autumn leaves, or organizing her cupboard.   She has developed a good idea and she executes it well, in my opinion.    

PROS: 

  • Very relaxing and relatable content

CONS: 

  • Content is relatively short compared to some others and might not be long enough for some listeners to fall asleep

Final Notes

All of the above podcasts can help someone fall asleep, but not stay asleep.  In fact, they may even wake you up as silence is the best condition to stay asleep. I was faced with the question of what about when the  podcast stops? 

I found a solution for staying asleep after the first podcast ends.  I stumbled upon some noise canceling podcasts that experiment with various versions of what used to be called ‘white noise.’  The parameters that define white noise are too technical for this blog, but suffice it to say that, one can create a podcast playlist that includes one of the above podcasts, followed by another that is white (or similar) noise that lasts for 12 hours.  This helps ensure that one not only falls asleep, but also stays asleep.

I have put together a playlist that samples each of the above podcasts.  In between them, I have inserted 12 hours of ‘brown noise’ (I prefer this to white noise) so that, after you fall asleep, you can have some assistance staying asleep.  I hope you enjoy.

Good night and sweet dreams!


[1] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/sleep-facts-statistics

[2] https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/podcasts-sleep-good-for-you