8 APPS AND PODCASTS TO HELP YOU SLEEP

One of the main pillars of a healthy lifestyle is regular, high-quality sleep. Lack of restful sleep has short-term negative effects on our physical and mental well-being and can pose a threat to our long-term health as well, leading to a weakened immune system, digestive issues, and an increased risk of stroke or heart attack, among other things.



Of course, consistently achieving nighttime sleep of the ideal duration and quality is nearly impossible for most of us. Many folks struggle with insomnia or an inability to fall asleep quickly, especially when we’re overcome with stress and the carousel of thoughts just won’t stop spinning.

So, we need a little help falling asleep. And as with almost everything in life these days, there’s an app — or podcast — for that.

Actually, there are hundreds of apps and podcasts for that. Rather than wading through them all — which will only stress you out more — check out our list of the top sleep-aid resources you can queue up at bedtime.

If these apps and podcasts do their jobs, you won’t remember the content very well because you’ll be fast asleep. They are real snooze-fests, in the best possible way.

Sleep Story Apps

Calm

Free 7-day trial, and then the $69.99 yearly subscription automatically begins. (You can also choose the lifetime subscription, in which you pay $399.99 once to access Calm forever.)

By this point, the phrase "sleep story" has become inextricably linked with the Calm brand. Even if you’ve never tried meditation or an audio sleep aid, you have most likely heard of Calm and its famous bedtime tales — especially the ones narrated by famous people, like Matthew McConaughey, Idris Elba, and Kate Winslet.

The meditation and sleep app has gone all-in on sleep story production, now offering a vast array of styles (original, traditional, fantastical, abstract, and more) and an impressive variety of celebrity narrators. Even the non-celebrity narrators on Calm have become celebrities in their own right — simply because listeners have come to rely on their voices to get to sleep. 

Calm offers a tremendous variety of other mental wellness resources, including guided meditations, music, breathing and stretching tracks, and more. But if it’s sleep you’re chasing, the sleep stories are as helpful as anything else out there. You’ll find original fiction, fairy tales, non-fiction, and even some tracks meant to facilitate a quick nap.

The producers behind Calm have made it into a sleep-content powerhouse, and you’ll find something to suit even your most specific moods. Do you require only train-related content? Calm has an entire section devoted to train stories. Would you immediately fall asleep to the sound of Bob Ross? You’re in luck! Calm offers audio tracks of some old episodes of The Joy of Painting, so you can drift off to the gentle artist murmuring about happy little trees.

What to try: "All Aboard the Flying Scotsman" and "The Orient Express" are two train-related tales that are highly effective at inducing sleep. Stephen Fry’s low, throaty narration of "Blue Gold" also put me to sleep within minutes, and "A Very Proper Tea Party" narrated by Mary Berry is sheer perfection for sleep-deprived fans of The Great British Baking Show.

Sleepiest

Free 7-day trial and then $9.99 per month or $49.99 for a year.

Sleepiest offers sleep meditations, soundscapes, bedtime stories, and sleep tracking, all with the goal of helping you achieve optimal rest. If one tactic doesn’t work for you, try another one. Meditation can make some people (myself included) feel a bit twitchy, but a certain soundscape — such as rain pelting a window, whale song, or even the clacking of a typewriter — may be just the thing that subdues the mental chatter long enough for you to drop off to sleep.

The soundscapes are fun to customize, as you can play around with combining the sounds at various volume levels to create your unique, aural universe.

There are pre-set soundscapes, like the "Riverbank Camping" option, which mixes the sounds of a country stream, crackling fire, and "sounds of zen." Another one, titled "Heaven's Canyon," combines birdsong with pink noise and celestial-sounding harp music.

Meanwhile, the bedtime stories are carefully designed to advance you toward rest: Stories range from around 15 to 45 minutes, and the narrations begin in an engaging way and become progressively more languid with longer pauses between words as the story continues, causing you to grow sleepier.

What to try: Some of the excerpted stories from classic titles are comforting to hear, like Sherlock Holmes tales and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the original bedtime stories, like "A Parcel From Paris" and "Koko’s Ukulele," are simple, easygoing ways to be spirited away to dreamland.

Slumber

After a free 7-day trial, you can pay $7.99 a month, $39.99 a year, or $249.99 for lifetime access.

Slumber is similar to Sleepiest in that it offers stories, sleep meditations, music, and soundscapes. The amount of content is more limited than Sleepiest, but this app offers a unique feature: You can customize the background sounds playing throughout whatever other track you’ve chosen, selecting from noises like crickets, crackling fire, snowstorm, and more. While I was listening to a story about a bakery on a rainy day, for example, I turned up the rain noise to enhance the aural immersion.

The sweetly illustrated thumbnails make scrolling through Slumber a pleasant user experience, and I appreciated that choosing a track didn't feel like an overwhelming task.

What to try: Yes, the "California by Train" story is another train-related tale, but this one is narrated by a man who sounds like Santa Claus, and it has a warm, relaxed California vibe. Plus, you can increase the train sound in the background, so it feels like you’re actually traveling on a rumbling train during the story. And while the "Gratitude for Sleep" meditation sounds like it could be super-cheesy, it’s actually sweet, as it guides you through various things from your day that you could be thankful for. At 14 minutes, it’s a low-commitment way to unwind.

Aura

Free 7-day trial and then a yearly subscription is $59.99.

Aura is a meditation and wellness app that promises a personalized approach to self-care. After supplying the app with some information about your goals and preferences, the algorithm will customize a set of recommendations for meditation, life coaching, breathwork, hypnosis, and, of course, sleep aids to ease you into restful slumber.

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Admittedly, there are so many different facets to this app, it’s almost overwhelming. Aura is trying to help with all the things that ail you, mental-wellness-wise, so its scope of offerings can feel endless. That said, if you want to simply focus on improving your sleep, the sleep section has a robust menu of options, including bedtime stories; all sorts of meditations for sleep, deep sleep, and breathing; plus calming music tracks, ASMR, and relaxing sounds, such as forest noises, rushing waterfalls, and windchimes.

You’ll almost certainly find something to help you on the Aura app, as the content gets quite specific. There are meditations for falling back to sleep after waking up, inspirational personal stories, hypnotherapy tracks for pain relief, and about a million other things to help you achieve your wellness goals.

What to try: My favorite options were the relaxing sounds like ocean waves and falling rain, because you can set a timer so that the sounds automatically shut off after a certain amount of time (ideally after you’ve successfully drifted off), and the bedtime stories, like the first chapter of Anne of Green Gables, which put me right to sleep.

Sleep Podcasts

Nothing Much Happens: Bedtime Stories For Grown-Ups

Thousands of reviewers on Apple podcasts have delivered a rating of 4.8 stars out of 5 for this show, making it a favorite among the sleep-seeking set. Many of the reviews insist that Nothing Much Happens cured their insomnia, with its bedtime stories full of mundane activities, gentle descriptions, and neutral observations. 

In the intro, host Kathryn Nicolai promises that — really and truly — nothing much happens in the stories she recites in her rich, sleepy voice. "You feel good. And then you fall asleep."

Nicolai herself writes the stories she reads aloud, and most episodes clock in around 30-35 minutes (though some are a little longer). The mild tales focus on things like the early hours of a baker’s workday, what it feels like to do yard work on an autumn day, the ritual of preparing a hot cup of tea on a cool morning, etc. If it sounds a little dull, that’s because it is. 

Nothing Much Happens is appealing in how intentional it is. Nicolai carefully crafts the tales so that they are not so boring that your mind wanders and not so stimulating that you’re kept awake.

What’s more, there’s a thoughtful utility to Nicolai’s storytelling method. "Your mind needs a track to run on," she explains in the intro. "Without one, it’s likely to run away from you and keep you up all night. The story is that track, and just by listening, you’ll shift your mind onto it. It’ll take you some place simple and relaxing."

Episodes to try: The "Sugar Snow" episode is a pleasantly dull exploration of the seasonal transition from winter to spring. And "The Jewelry Box" is a poignant but mellow essay about remembering those we’ve lost through the dear belongings they’ve left to us. 

 

Sleepy

"Hi everyone, my name’s Otis Gray, and you’re listening to Sleepy, a podcast where I read old books to help you get to sleep." This introduction begins each episode of Sleepy, a podcast hosted by Gray, whose low, gravelly voice will absolutely make you feel so relaxed, your conscious state will not stand a chance.

The simplicity of this podcast is its greatest charm — it is one man reading old works of literature with almost zero affectation and no background music or sounds. In addition to classic titles like Treasure Island, Emma, Beowulf, and The Secret Garden, there are a few episodes in which Gray merely reads aloud from the dictionary or thesaurus, or counts from 1 to 500. Episode 95 features excerpts from the Honda Motorcycle Shop Manual.

The first few times I listened to this podcast, I couldn’t help laughing at the deadpan delivery of these stories, some of which are quite dramatic (but certainly don’t sound like they are, in Gray’s possession). Something about this man’s voice appeals to me, though, and I love that the selection of tales is limited to old-fashioned literature, rather than contemporary fiction.

I always envision a small, candlelit library where an expressionless Otis Gray slides an old book from the shelf, settles into an armchair, and reads the first chapter aloud.

Episodes to try: There’s such a lush, lyrical quality to many of these stories, such as Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven (Episode 69), and even Gray’s monotone cannot strip away the musicality of the prose. The best episodes for you may be particular to your own reading preferences or what kinds of stories you enjoyed in your youth. My favorite episodes were stories that I could have pulled from my own bookshelf — A Little Princess (Ep. 74), Frankenstein (Ep. 122), Greek myths (129) — but it’s far more, well, sleepy to hear them read aloud by Gray.

Get Sleepy

Tom Jones, the guy behind the Get Sleepy podcast, is dedicated to helping people improve their rest by listening to sleep stories. Not to be confused with the Welsh singer of the same name, this Tom Jones has written many bedtime tales, and he narrates them in his serene, British-accented voice. In fact, many of the stories on Get Sleepy are also featured on the Slumber app, so you could avoid paying for the app and still hear some great sleep stories on Get Sleepy (if you don’t mind some advertisements). You can also purchase the premium version of Get Sleepy (monthly subscriptions are $5.99 a month or pay $49.99 for a year) to access ad-free episodes and additional content.

Many of the sleep stories incorporate nature and take place in the natural world, or they are set in other calm locations, like an aquarium or a guitar-maker’s workshop. Other tracks explore historical tales that are blessedly low on intrigue, like the history of crayons or the origin story of candy hearts.

Episodes to try: "The Seven Springs of Kinosaki," a sleep story about tranquil hot springs in Japan, was so relaxing, I never heard how it ends because I fell asleep about halfway through. And I enjoyed the "Mythology of the Moon" episode because it was interesting — but not too interesting.

 

Stories From the Borders of Sleep

As the title suggests, this podcast offers original works that feel like they emerged from that state between sleep and awakeness "where imagination and reality are braided together." Host Seymour Jacklin writes and narrates the dreamy content in each episode. Jacklin is also listed as a creator and narrator of certain stories offered in the Aura app, so this is not the only place to find sleep content by Jacklin, but you can access his stories for free by listening to the podcast.

These fantastical tales vary in length from around 10 minutes to around 30 minutes, making them a low-commitment option if you just want a whimsical little morsel to ease you into sleep.

The stories are not intended solely for children, though there’s a childlike quality to them that may remind you of a more innocent time, when you would snuggle under the covers and listen to tales about fanciful creatures and far-off places.

Episodes to try: Each of the stories has a magical element to it, and some are more adventure-driven while others feel more ethereal. I enjoyed "Lady Isabella" and "Sketching and Painting" in particular.

Notable mention: Sleep Whispers

The Sleep Whispers podcast is an ASMR-based resource where host Harris whispers into the microphone as a way of soothing and relaxing your brain and bringing you to a state of readiness for sleep. ASMR stands for "autonomous sensory meridian response" and it refers to the tingly or relaxing sensations that some people get from watching videos or listening to audio of activities that require close, intimate attention. This can include ordinary actions, like crinkling paper, or even just whispering. "ASMR" is actually not a scientific term, and all evidence of its effectiveness is anecdotal.

It can also be a divisive subject. Some people find it comforting to hear such soft, specific sounds. Others find it absurd, creepy, or downright maddening. If you are someone who benefits from ASMR tactics, Sleep Whispers is a solid option to queue up when you’re having a hard time falling asleep and would like to hear someone speak in a hushed voice. As Harris puts it in his intro, his whispered words are meant to "calm and tranquilize those pesky squirrels in your brain so you can relax and fall asleep."

8 Apps and Podcasts to Help You Sleep

The Wise Woman's

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