If deep breathing or counting sheep isn’t working to help you fall asleep, a podcast might be just what you need. Listening to someone tell you a story—particularly someone who is a professional or semi-professional storyteller—can help quiet your mind and refocus it away from stress, anxiety, or whatever else is keeping you awake.
There’s an entire genre of podcasts specifically built around sleep, including shows like Sleep With Me and Get Sleepy. If you’ve already tried those or are looking for something you can listen to at other times beyond when you’re trying to fall asleep, here are eight shows with a strong storytelling focus to consider.
Rather than scrolling through your phone, lay back and follow along with these immersive stories and narrators.
Phoebe Judge is the host of the Criminal podcast and, in my opinion, has one of the most unique voices in podcasting. It’s perfectly suited to this series, in which she reads chapters from classic novels like Moby Dick, Little Women, and The Scarlet Letter. You’ve probably read at least a few of these books before, so it’s not a big deal if you drift off in the middle of an episode. Shows like this are a great alternative to audiobooks, which are not usually available for free.
I tried to stay away from true crime on this list because I didn’t want anyone to end up staying awake because they were sucked into a story or afraid of having nightmares after what they heard. Lore examines some of history’s darker elements, but in a way that’s not gory or overly dramatic like true crime. Aaron Mahnke is a wonderful narrator who calmly takes listeners through each of the show’s nearly 200 episodes.
LeVar Burton has been sharing his love of reading and storytelling with many of us since we were kids watching him on Reading Rainbow. His podcast, LeVar Burton Reads, features Burton’s iconic voice reading works from authors like Kurt Vonnegut and Neil Gaiman. Rather than simply reading the story, Burton acts the part of the characters, and the show also makes use of sound design to create a more immersive experience.
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There’s nothing like a little travel to get your mind off whatever is stressing you out. The Atlas Obscura Podcast, produced by travel guide site Atlas Obscura, transports listeners to some of the world’s most intriguing places. Most episodes are less than 15 minutes, which is perfect for winding down before bed. Travel to Goblin Valley State Park in Utah, the Forestiere Underground Gardens in California, and the Monongahela Incline in Pittsburgh. Get ready to hit the pillow thinking about your next adventure.
BJ Harrison started the Classic Tales Podcast in 2007, and it didn’t take long for listeners to discover that he was an amazing storyteller. Now, 15 years later, he’s narrated more than 650 audiobooks and released nearly 200 episodes of the podcast, which revisits works of literature by authors including Charles Dickens and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Like Burton, Harrison’s voice is soothing enough to help you wind down after a long day, and quiet enough not to wake you up if you happen to doze off before the end of an episode.
Long before podcasts and audiobooks, radio shows were a way to bring literature and its characters to life off the page. Radio developed a sound all its own that’s captured perfectly on the Nostalgic Mystery Radio podcast. Picture your grandparents sitting down to unwind at the end of a long day by listening to this show, and try doing the same yourself. They didn’t have any technology to distract them; this is a perfect excuse to put your phone away and transport yourself back in time.
If you ever fell asleep during philosophy class in college, this show is for you. British author Nigel Warburton reads from his book Philosophy: The Classics, which summarizes 27 classic works of philosophy. Aristotle and Plato aren’t exactly designed to keep you on the edge of your seat, so this show is perfect if you want to zone out while maybe learning a thing or two. You can drift off to sleep contemplating life’s deeper questions and perhaps wake up with new ideas after sleeping on those big questions.
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Like Lore, this podcast explores stories from history and folklore that shape our lives today. Host Jason Weiser has been doing the show since 2015 and has created more than 250 episodes. The storytelling is immersive, yet Weiser’s delivery is calm enough to help you relax and get closer to falling asleep. The Myths and Legends website lists recommended episodes for new listeners to start with, including the show’s series on the hidden origins of Disney movies and another on the Greek Gods.
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