In 2016 it is a normal thing to go to bed with earphones in your ears and your phone playing something soothing. Washes of noise are never far away—for example, you can listen to crashing waves on Spotify (that track I just linked has nearly 14 million listens).
Personally I find that just too soothing — I feel spoiled and lazy laying there listening to streaming beach sounds. I’m not actually at the beach. Should I go to the beach? Ulgh, I need to go to the beach. Do I have sandals? What am I even doing? Should I also invest in fancy night-time herbal cremes and apply bee-pollen poultices to my forehead as I recline in a mountain of quilted goosedown?
Instead, since I was a kid and had access to a clock radio, I’ve liked to go to bed listening to something substantive. Apparently there are a lot of people like me—witness the popularity (ongoing) of the Sleep With Me podcast, which consists of someone telling a very boring story or expounding on a very boring subject in a very boring manner. Some example episodes:
- “Superdull is the story of a team of superheroes who are awaiting earth’s hour of greatest need. They wait…and wait…and wait…until they are called into action.”
- “Will you sleep while I mumble about Algae and TJ Miller? I hope so, if not never fret, Tommen and Pounce, old gods and new, AND Martha Plimpton will try and soothe.”
These are popular — and genuinely boring! — but I find the whole conceit a little self-conscious (while also admiring the creators). But—Why make something boring when there’s so much boring media already out there? Let’s recycle the terrible media we already have!
What I like in my sleepy-time media is just a hint of virtue — to find something that should be interesting and informative, plug it into my ears, congratulate myself briefly for making use of every possible moment of the day to learn and understand new things, and then immediately go straight into the deepest possible sleep. I need to convince myself that I’m doing something meaningful in order to finally disengage, if that makes sense. It’s a little pitiful, I know, but there you go.
In case you are similarly afflicted, here are some of my favorite sleepy-time audio sources, the ones guaranteed to turn your brain to a soft gelatin in the shortest amount of time.
- The Miller Center archive of presidential speeches. Most presidential speeches are not actually rousing. Most of them are boring and pretty pompous. One of my favorites is the Reagan/Carter presidential debate of 1980. You expect it to be full of historical import but alone in the dark you just want to drift away. (If you poke around that site you’ll find lots of MP3s).
- There’s a ton of historical audio on Archive.org (just search for “otrr” if you want tons of verified old radio show anthologies) and one of the best resources is the Singles and Doubles Collection, which is, for our purposes, a grab bag of random, little-remembered radio programs. Here’s an example: “The AFRA Refresher Course Workshop of the Air.” Every single link appears to be of historical interest, but after about five minutes your face starts to melt off. Or try “A Woman of America: The Story of Prudence Dane.”
- A little more obscure is The Old Time Radio Researchers Library, where you’ll find gems like “Living In an Atomic Age,” a series of lectures by Bertrand Russell that it’s incredibly easy to convince yourself should be fascinating—and then about two minutes in you’ll be forcibly marched at gunpoint into Slumberland by Little Nemo’s jackbooted angels.
- If you’re on Spotify and in a pinch, put Shakespeare Stories on your phone—they’re narrated by Derek Jacobi and not even the actual plays, but rather an audio adaption of Lamb’s 1807 Tales from Shakespeare, itself an adaptation. You hear the plummy British intonation and suddenly you’re counting Badger Face Welsh Mountain sheep as they jump over hedgerows (joke reference source: “Know Your Sheep” from the British NSA, or National Sheep Association)
- But the best, most boring but possibly interesting audio I’ve found, the source that will bring Morpheus up from his deeps to envelop you in his arms while he hands you an Ambien and Benadryl cocktail dissolved in Nyquil, is this massive page of MP3 interviews from the commission that investigated the 2008 financial crisis. A lot of them start with interviewers slowly explaining who they are, and then—well I haven’t made it more than ten minutes into any one one. They’re gold. Sometimes you just hear people turning pages for a while. Sometimes people just say “um” and pause for a few seconds and then: “Residential mortgage-backed securities.” No one commits to anything at all. Sentences start, “From a quantitive standpoint.” Just take a listen to this interview with Brian Clarkson, formerly of Moody’s corporation. See if you can make it more than three or four minutes. The first few minutes involve people stating their names and…maybe fixing the air conditioning? And it just keeps going from there.