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Sounds for sleep: Alternative ways to reach the Land of Nod

Tips & tricks by Fiona Ruth

Are your usual tricks to get to sleep not working? Fiona Ruth provides five alternative options for those who are struggling to nod off.

Anxiety and worry can often appear worse at night and getting to sleep can be difficult. You may want to drift off, but it seems your brain fills with concerns. Or perhaps it will fixate on something that you just can’t shake off.

Well, there’s a saying that nature loves a vacuum. In this case, your brain is trying to fill the space that is usually stimulated and occupied in the daytime by talking to family, colleagues or being online with whatever it can.

If you would like to sleep better, then soothing sounds and gentle narrations may help. There are however lots of different sleep help sounds to listen to, which can be overwhelming, so I’ve put together a starting point. Some other ideas, such as an art podcast or the shipping forecast may be a little more unusual, but they are well worth a try! Here are some of the best ways of getting into that lovely, drowsy state. Wishing you a good night’s sleep.

1) Sounds of blue spaces

‘Blue space’ is the term given to water sources, such as the sea or a lake. We’ve all heard people say how being by the water makes them feel calmer and more relaxed. This is supported by research which shows that exposure to blue spaces has links to improved health, and specifically lowers stress and nervous system arousal.

Just listening to the sounds of water provides some of these benefits. The crash of the waves and their hypnotic in-out, in-out rhythm can lull you into a sleepy state. There are plenty of YouTube videos with dark screens, so the luminescence doesn’t have to keep you awake. There are also Spotify alternatives that you can dive into.

Below are my recommendations, with a bonus one for rainfall. Although it doesn’t technically count as a blue space, the sound can give the same hypnotic effects!



2) Steam trains

Many forms of transport can cause drowsiness, provided you’re not on the tube at rush hour! Experts suggest this is because cars and trains emit low-frequency vibrations which stimulate the part of the nervous system responsible for resting.

This is especially the case with the repetitive ‘clickety-clack’ of an old steam train passing over the tracks. You can find yourself almost moving along with the train as it makes its journey. Of course, this dreamy effect could be enhanced by the images this old-fashioned style of transport conjures up. It’s easy to start imagining times past and travelling on the Orient Express in Art Deco luxury, complete with Poirot in the next carriage. Or maybe, it’s a magical destination that awaits. Either way, this train will hopefully reach the Land of Nod.

3) Art History at Bedtime podcast

A little more unusual, but one I personally enjoy. This podcast combines a gentle narration with interesting detail, so even if you can’t sleep you can be quietly entertained. It’s the work of Dr Bendor Grosvenor, an art expert you may recognise if you have ever watched the BBC’s art detection programme, Fake Or Fortune.

Dr Grosvenor reads from centuries-old texts concerning great, and lesser known, artists. These include Caravaggio (he had a rather eventful life), Sofonisba Anguisola (a female Italian Renaissance painter), and Leonardo Da Vinci (enough said).

Dr Grosvenor has a soft and rhythmic voice which helps you drift off to sleep. You can download all the episodes and create a playlist so that he continues talking through the night. To wake up and hear the narration before dropping back off can be quite reassuring.

Remember, you’re not trying to get to the end of an episode, no matter how absorbed you are! The episode will still be there come morning. You may well pick up on things though – one thing I have learned is that Michelangelo, although incredibly talented, was quite high maintenance... Have a listen and see if you agree.

You can find Dr Grosvenor on social media @arthistorynews.

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4) Chanting monks: O Filii Et Filiae (Chant of the Mystics)

There’s something otherworldly about monks which gives this music a head start in terms of atmosphere. This Latin chanting is a Christian Easter hymn, which has a haunting and historic tone. It invokes images of centuries past, with monks silently gliding through their Abbey, heads bowed low in their hoods, mysterious and intriguing.

The rhythm and the chanting have a hypnotic quality. It transports you not just into a sleepy state, but you can find connection on a spiritual level too. You don’t have to be religious to absorb it, although people may feel an affinity with the song. The composer Patrick Lenk has alternative chants too, so explore to find one you like. Then put it on repeat and fall asleep to this atmospheric backdrop.

With background music:

Pure chant with echo:

5) Shipping forecast

The shipping forecast is a British institution from BBC Radio 4. Its purpose is to inform shipping vessels around the UK about weather conditions and it follows a set pattern. The information is presented in a repetitive and simple way. It’s this combination of elements that make it mesmerising and sleepy.

The forecast has a pleasing rhythm as the names of the locations are read out and followed by important nautical details. It may sound something like: “Viking, North-west 5 to 7, perhaps gale 8 later. Rain or showers. Good, occasionally moderate.” (And yes, there really is a specific area called Viking. Guess where it is!).

You probably won’t understand what all the references mean, but if you’re intrigued this factsheet from the Met Office will provide you with the answers and the history. It’s quite fascinating.

Perhaps a reason that the shipping forecast is comforting, besides its reassuring delivery and repetitive rhythm, is that it reminds us that other people are awake too. There’s a sense as you lie there in bed that life continues outside, that others are up and even working, and that you’re not alone, even if all the house lights on the street around you are off.

The video below is 9 hours long and perfect to have on overnight. Be aware that because the presenters change, so does the volume of their voices, so it’s best to just experiment a little to get the right volume level for you. Also, you can dim the brightness of the image by lowering it in your screen settings.

Wishing you good sleep!

I hope these suggestions provide the comfort you need when anxiety keeps you awake. They’re not a fix-all of course, but they may just help a little.


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