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The modern bedtime story: 7 soothing podcasts to help you get to sleep

If you’ve ever struggled to get to sleep, you’ll know how distressing it can be. Staring at the ceiling unable to drift off doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world – but when it’s 3.30am on a Sunday and you haven’t slept a wink, it can feel catastrophic.

Research has shown that insomnia is on the rise in the UK, with women three times more likely than men to report having trouble sleeping (a staggering 75% of British women told the most recent Great British Sleep Survey that they struggle to nod off at night). Much has been made of the impact on technology on our ability to switch off at the end of the day – but what if your smartphone or laptop could actually be the key to a successful slumber?

Today, more and more people are turning to podcasts to coax them towards dreamland. According to sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley, this is no surprise.

“Children like hearing the same bedtime stories again and again,” he says. “It’s enough to distract them from their worries, but they don’t have to fully concentrate. It’s the same for adults.”

Read more: This is how much insomnia actually affects your ability to do your job

“If you’re listening to the radio or a podcast, you’re not worrying about your mortgage or your relationship or your job,” he continues. “It distracts your brain from the stresses of the day without you having to pay close attention.”


Olivia (Patricia Arquette) reading her children a bedtime story in Boyhood (2014). Increasing numbers of adults are listening to podcasts to help them get to sleep.

If you’re watching a TV programme or browsing Facebook, Dr Stanley explains, you will be “cognitively aroused”, making it difficult for your brain to switch off. “It’s true that blue light [from screens] is too stimulating,” he says. “But on the most basic level, if you’ve got your eyes open you’re not falling asleep.”

Podcasts and radio programmes, which don’t provide visual stimuli for our brains to try and process, don’t present this problem – allowing us to lose focus and drift off more easily.

Read more: The storyteller: Romola Garai kicks off the Stylist Book Club

However, Dr Stanley explains that not all is created equal when it comes to bedtime listening. “Noise is relevant or alerting if it is meaningful,” he says. “So if you’ve got the Radio 4 news on and suddenly they announce that Donald Trump has fired missiles at Syria, your brain will go, ‘Oh I need to listen to this’.”

If you’re looking to be lulled into a peaceful slumber, it’s better to choose podcasts and programmes that you can listen to without “actively engaging” – in much the same way that children listen to bedtime stories with half an ear.

Here, we’ve rounded up some of the best podcasts and radio programmes available online to help you wind down and nod off. Sweet dreams.

Main image: Rex Features



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