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How comfort listening can help with your night-time anxiety

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Anna Brech
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Struggling with a string of irrational thoughts come 3am? Here’s how upbeat audio can ease those pre-dawn blues:

Eighty percent of us have suffered from night-time anxiety at some point, and we know a lot about preventative techniques.

Exercising more (pre-8pm) is said to help, for example, as is writing a list of things that are bothering you before bedtime. A cyber curfew also comes highly recommended. 

But a less explored area is what to do when you’re in that moment. When, despite all best intentions, you’re still there in the early hours, grappling with a tailspin of worst-case worries. 

One unexpected answer lies in the form of comfort listening.

Much like feel-good films, uplifting podcasts and audio books have a way of lulling you into a warm sense of security. Only there’s none of the sneaky blue light interference that comes from screen time and firing up Netflix. 

Suddenly, you are distracted from your own catastrophization, and that 3am tendency your mind has to snowball problems out of all proportion. You’re reminding yourself that the world is actually a pretty good place.

Not only that, but choose the right listening material and you may succeed in calming yourself back to sleep, too. 

It’s a surprisingly effective ritual, because it conjures up that exact same sense of warmth and safety that you associate with the bedtime stories of your childhood.

A woman listening to a podcast
Lull yourself back off to sleep

When it comes to night-time anxiety, comfort listening is a win-win approach. 

Ideally, you retreat to the land of nod. But at the very least, you’ll bring yourself to a calmer place and have a good story to while away time with.

So, what to listen to? Here are a few of our soothing favourites to stockpile your device with:

This American Life podcasts

This beloved US Public Radio podcast can be hard-hitting, so not every episode works as pre-dawn material. But land the right episode, and veteran presenter Ira Glass and his team make great middle-of-the-night company. We recommend something relatively light, like The Heart Wants What It Wants (exploring the true nature of love) When The Beasts Come Marching In, starring a drunken moose. At its best, this is poignant, original and delightful storytelling that can’t fail to reassure.

Miss Marple dramatisations

Agatha Christie is a stellar option; she’s a classic storyteller, but her tales are more entertaining than scary – especially if you opt for the Miss Marple series. BBC full-cast adaptations of her books, including 4.50 From Paddington or A Caribbean Mystery, will whisk you away to a bygone world. They’re well-produced but also promise gentle, easy listening.

A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson’s meandering and hilarious tale of his epic walk across the Appalachian Trail with his wayward friend Stephen Katz strikes just the right note for 4am storytelling. It’s narrated by Bryson himself, whose calming style will sweep you up on the adventure right by his side. It’s diverting, and at the same time, deeply soporific.

 Calm’s bedtime stories

This top-ranked meditation app has a fleet of bedtime stories that are specially designed to have you snoozing in no time. High-profile narrators include the likes of Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley. Storytelling is deliberately slow and melodic without being boring, drawing from visions of starlit skies and jungle waterfalls. There are also some childhood favourites in the mix, including the always-comforting Wind in the Willows.

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.