Should You Listen to a Podcast to Fall Asleep? Here’s What a Sleep Expert Says.
Kelly Murray, a certified pediatric and adult sleep consultant, shares what you need to know about this common habit
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There’s a scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy doesn’t know the way to the Emerald City. After the Oz residents sing an eerie, haunting tune, she follows the yellow brick road and—with the help of a few friends—finds the wizard. For those of us with sleep issues, this story may sound familiar. Every night can feel like a Judy Garland-esque adventure. Which “brick road,” or, OK, sleep strategy, will deliver you to dreamland the quickest?
Some people prefer sleep meditations, while others turn to ocean waves, stories, or yoga. But if you rely on podcasts or audiobooks to fall asleep, you may wonder if that practice is expert-approved. What content is best? How long should you listen for? Should you really be throwing on Crime Junkies or the latest from Stephen King before calling it a night?
“Having a distraction to help calm your brain so that you’re not focusing on thoughts, worries, and to-do lists can be really helpful, and actually allow you to fall asleep more quickly,” says certified pediatric and adult sleep consultant Kelly Murray, who adds that a quiet mind is an essential part of falling asleep.
Throwing on a podcast or audiobook when you’re tossing and turning is completely fine, Murray says. Just remember that the content does matter. Some listening materials leave you feeling serene and detached from your worries—and these are the ones you want to cling to. “What’s most important is finding something that’s actually calming and not very suspenseful or disturbing,” she says. “If it’s very suspenseful, then you’re going to want to stay awake and listen.” So, yes, that leaves true crime and politics out of your nighttime routine.
Once you’ve found the listening experience that’s calming (and, OK, a little boring) enough to shepherd you into a good night’s rest, Murray recommends setting a timer for the podcast or audiobook to automatically shut off. Apps like Audible and Spotify offer this feature, and Murray says it’s absolutely essential. You don’t want to be sound asleep and suddenly woken up by a podcast host’s laugh, says Murray. This can insight a fight or flight response that will wake you up and potentially bar you from falling back asleep.
Alternative Soundscapes to Help You Fall Asleep
While relying on podcasts and audiobooks to relax at night isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing, that strategy isn’t Murray’s first recommendation. Sleep meditations allow you to connect with your breath, which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, or your “rest and digest” state. Murray suggests Calm Sleep Stories, but Insight Timer, Headspace, and Spotify also have similar content.
Sound machines also offer a soothing effect. “I would recommend finding a sound that is at a lower frequency, such as pink or brown noise,” she says. While you may love listening to white noise during your workdays, it’s not the best aid to your sleep. White noise has a high frequency that stimulates, rather than calms, your brain, Murray says. Additionally, nature sounds, such as waves or rain may also promote deep sleep. If you always sleep better outside, consider bringing those forest noises into your bedroom. Or at least recreating them through your phone speakers.
Consider which midnight soundtrack makes the most sense for you—and press play. With a little bit of planning, you’ll be following that yellow brick road in no time. And with any luck, the route will be less harrowing for you than it was for Dorothy.