Sometimes falling asleep seems impossible. You lie awake at night, staring at the dark ceiling, while endless thoughts race through your mind.
Luckily, there are sleep tactics that can help induce drowsiness. A popular choice is to listen to music or a podcast. But which is the better option?
Emma Totaro, junior creative writing major, struggled with falling asleep after the endless days of Zoom calls during the COVID-19 pandemic. The inactivity during the day left her restless at night, so she turned to the podcasts featured on the “Calm” application.
“I listen to ‘Humphrey in Paris’ and ‘Humphrey in London’ a lot,” Totaro said. “It is about this cat, and he goes around these cities and tries to ﬁnd the best place to sleep. Children’s stories like that help put me to sleep. I certainly ﬁnd it relaxing to listen to people talk about mindless stuff.”
The stress of homework and upcoming tests can ﬁ ll us with worry, not to mention stress about paying off student loans or getting a job. These anxieties can occupy our minds when we settle down for the night, making sleep seem futile. Totaro has found that distracting her brain by listening to podcasts can help her ﬁnd peace for a restful night.
“When I have trouble sleeping, my mind is just really anxious and racing, or I am not tired,” Totaro said.
“These stories give me something to think about that is not worrisome. It is very peaceful to me and I ﬁnd that I fall asleep faster when I listen to the stories.”
Dr. Carol Minton-Ryan, professor of sociology, prefers listening to music over podcasts since the complex topics can actually prevent your brain from relaxing.
“The disadvantage of pod-casts especially if you were not familiar with what they were saying to you is that your brain would want to process it. So it could actually do the opposite and keep you awake.”
That kind of stress can lead to sleep latency and even cause nightmares. However, listening to music before falling asleep may be beneﬁcial to your mental state in the mornings.
Zoe Longsine, sophomore elementary education and Christian studies major, ﬁnds that listening to music is what helps her fall asleep at night. She enjoys winding down to her favorite artist, Taylor Swift.“I listen to her entire discography. All of it,” Longsine said. “I tried calming music, like classical, and I was just like, ‘Oh, this is so boring, I cannot fall asleep to it,’ which is the opposite of what should happen. So I started listening to Taylor Swift because I love her.”
According to the American Psychology Association, music at bedtime improves one’s subjective sleep quality and can have lasting effects that carry on to the next morning’s well-being.
Longsine prefers playing her favorite artist because of the joy she derives from it, which eases her mind from worries. She allows the songs to play throughout the night to start her morning off right.
“I have it on a loop, so I wake up to the music,” Longsine said. “I feel like I wake up happier when I listen to music I like.”
Minton-Ryan also enjoys listening to music before going to sleep. Oftentimes, a wide variety of genres play aloud as her bedtime approaches.
“My husband and I love to do YouTube videos and we enjoy lots of different music,” Minton-Ryan said. “We enjoy different singers and different instrumental pieces. It is a way to relax and unwind our day.”
So, why do some people gravitate toward podcasts while others gravitate toward music?
“Research has always suggested it is personal preference,” Minton-Ryan said. “In other words, if I think podcasts get me to sleep and I want to impose it on you, you may try it and say, ‘It does not work for me.’”
Totaro prefers podcasts because of the comfort it brings to her. She listens to bedtime stories reminiscent of her childhood, which is why she enjoys nostalgia-inducing podcasts over modern music. Listening to songs serves a different purpose for her.
“Music is just really stimulating for me, even classical music,” Totaro said. “It is relaxing, but in a different way, in that it helps me focus on schoolwork.”
Although podcasts are what help Totaro fall asleep, they have the opposite effect on Longshine.
“With podcasts, I want to listen to them and not just be like, ‘OK, well, goodnight,’ and fall asleep,” Longshine said. “I want to actually hear the information that they are saying. So I feel like that is why I listen to music because I already know all of the songs.”
Although both of these forms of media provide the necessary distraction that helps calm our minds, it may not have to do with which form of media it is, but rather how its familiarity brings us comfort.
“Research suggests you are better off listening to your favorite stuff,” Minton-Ryan said. “If you were unfamiliar with what they were saying to you, your brain would want to process it. So it could actually do the opposite and keep you awake.”
Next time you lie awake with worries racing through your mind, play some soothing podcasts or your top songs. Despite which one you prefer to listen to, always opt for your favorites. When the familiar voice of a narrator or singer plays through your earbuds, your stress can dissolve, leading to a long and blissful sleep.