Years ago I lost the ability to fall asleep in silence. I require consistent background noise in order to drift off. I’m not alone here; many people can’t get to sleep without some kind of ambient sound in the room. My son uses a fan for this purpose. An old girlfriend of mine (number three, for those keeping track) showed me her standby, the sleep timer button. “All hotel TV remotes have a sleep timer button,” she informed me one night. “How do you not know that?” She could get mouthy.

I don’t use a fan or television to fall asleep. I use podcasts on my iPhone, because:

  • Whether at home or traveling, I always have my phone (even when camping).
  • I might learn something from the podcast before sleep takes me.
  • Girlfriend number five doesn’t like background noise, so if she’s around I can just use earphones.

But not every podcast is suitable for the purpose of falling asleep. An effective somnolent podcast will have the following three characteristics: it will be mildly entertaining, mildly informative, and regularly scheduled.

  • The podcast can’t be too entertaining; otherwise the brain gets engaged and won’t switch off.  National Public Radio’s Car Talk and Wait, Wait! Don’t Tell Me! podcasts are in this category. Scientists have detected delta waves emanating from the brain when it is sleeping properly. Disturbing the wave pattern disrupts your sleep. Don’t let an exciting podcast mess with your delta waves.
  • The podcast can’t be too informative. You want to fall asleep quickly, right? If everything goes well, you won’t actually hear much of the podcast -- so it shouldn’t be a primary source of information that you need to retain. For example, professional programs like the OWASP podcast or Tripwire’s Security Slice podcasts communicate important data, and so fall into the “too informative” category.
  • The podcast should be regularly scheduled so you always have new episodes to sleep to. Using the same episode works for a while, but eventually the mind completely ignores duplicates and they become ineffective as soporifics. For me, this seems to happen after I hear the same episode four times. A podcast that comes out every weekday is just about perfect.

Here are my favorite sleep-inducing podcasts. I realize I am damning them with faint praise.

#1 - Tech News Today – weekdays, 30 minutes, host Mike Elgan

TNT recaps all the news from the tech industry for the day. It contains no original material, so you won’t really be missing any news you wouldn’t have already seen in your RSS feed. TNT is my go-to podcast at bedtime. Often the opening music alone will put me under. This long-running podcast used to be hosted by Internet legend Tom Merritt, but he had a disagreement with his management. 

Daily Tech News Show with Tom Merritt

#2 – Daily Tech News Show  – weekdays, 30 minutes, host Tom Merritt

That’s right—when Tom Merritt left TNT he went on to start an almost identical show. The podcast titles are basically indistinguishable, and so are their formats. Merritt and some guests read the news to you. Tom has the perfect radio voice and excellent chemistry with his guests; they all appear to be old friends. 

#3 – NPR’s Science Friday – weekly, 30-60 minutes, host Ira Flatow

Ira Flatow has been hosting the Science Friday show since before germs. Flatow will interview any science person about anything, no matter how dry the topic. The only thing drier than Flatow are his guests. Why, just today he’s interviewing a Japanese guy about water-resistant metallurgy. That’s pretty dry (in more ways than one!). 

Stuff You Should Know

#4 – Stuff You Should Know – weekly, 60 minutes, hosts Charles (Chuck) Bryant and Josh Clark

Two Canadians read LexisNexis to you. If that doesn’t sound like the ultimate sleeper podcast, I don’t know what will. I kid. Chuck and Josh have good radio personalities and rich voices, and they choose interesting topics. It’s unlike anything else you’ll hear during the week, so it feels like original material. In fact, the show is so interesting that I generally save it for long car trips because I usually learn something. Some of my favorite topics have been “How do chiggers work?” and “Why do I twitch when I fall asleep?

BBC World Service Global Hour

#5 – BBC Global News – daily, 30-60 minutes

For whatever reason, when the BBC says “global news” in this program they usually mean “African news.” On my NPR station, the program airs between midnight and 5 a.m. A typical night might include a discussion about how President Goodluck Jonathan is going to stop leaky pipes in Nigeria. And lots of soccer reports, too. Yawn, I’m falling asleep already. The only drawback is that every now and then something horrific happens in Africa (Boko Haram, Ebola) and the show becomes momentarily exciting.


iCatcher Podcast App

Load these podcasts up in your iCatcher app and be prepared to fall into a deep slumber.

So I've told you my secret. What is your secret to falling asleep?

Is it a podcast? If so, please share in the comments below. I’m always on the lookout for another podcast to fall asleep to.

Maybe one that girlfriend number five can get behind.