Music That Helps You Sleep: Minimalist Composer Max Richter, Pop Phenom Ed Sheeran & Your Favorites

I admit it now, I was once an avid lis­ten­er of the sooth­ing new age music of Enya. At the time, in my musi­cal cir­cles, this was not cool, and at the time I cared about such things. So Enya was my guilty secret. I didn’t need to work that hard to hide my affec­tion. I only lis­tened to Enya at night, as I lay in bed alone and drift­ed off. I used my Enya cas­sette tapes (yes tapes), you see, to put myself to sleep.

I’ve had oth­er sleep favorites. Beethoven, Mozart, Bach… inter­pre­ta­tions of Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach by syn­the­siz­er wiz­ard Wendy Car­los…. It may seem dis­parag­ing to say that a cer­tain composer’s music lulls one to sleep, but I think it’s just the oppo­site. So does com­pos­er and musi­cian Max Richter, who has cre­at­ed an eight-hour piece called “Sleep” that is “meant to be slept through,” says Richter. (There’s also a one hour ver­sion that’s more read­i­ly avail­able for pur­chase.) Its gen­tle waves of strings, voice, piano, and synths are like a musi­cal Lethe one floats on into obliv­ion.

Richter has per­formed the piece with oth­er musi­cians, just recent­ly overnight on a Sep­tem­ber 27th BBC Radio 3 broad­cast, “the longest live broad­cast,” writes The New York­er, “of a sin­gle piece of music in the station’s his­to­ry.” The small audi­ence in atten­dance most­ly stayed awake. One mem­ber report­ed­ly hal­lu­ci­nat­ed. The com­po­si­tion con­sists of thir­ty-one themed move­ments (Hear “Dream 3 (in the midst of my life)” above). Lovers of mod­ern min­i­mal­ist com­posers like Philip Glass and William Basin­s­ki will notice sim­i­lar uses of drone notes and rep­e­ti­tion in “Sleep.” You may even hear a touch of Enya….

Richter’s is the per­fect music to accom­pa­ny me into dream­land; even those move­ments that include a vocal­ist use the voice as a word­less, ethe­re­al instru­ment, as so many ambi­ent musi­cians do. I’ve come across more than a few favorite ambi­ent and min­i­mal­ist com­posers late at night, when Spo­ti­fy begins rec­om­mend­ing sleep playlists. “Sleep,” it turns out, “is one of Spotify’s most pop­u­lar cat­e­gories,” accord­ing to Bill­board. How­ev­er, the “world’s favorite choice when choos­ing music to unwind” may sur­prise you: red-head­ed Eng­lish singer/songwriter Ed Sheer­an.

I’m not per­son­al­ly a fan of his music, but even if I were, I can’t imag­ine lis­ten­ing to it as I set­tle down to sleep. Nonethe­less, mil­lions of peo­ple stream Sheer­an’s songs on repeat at bed­time, along with oth­er pop artists like Ellie Gould­ing, John Leg­end, Sam Smith, and Rihan­na. To each their own, I guess. Hear a playlist of the most-streamed “sleep” music on Spo­ti­fy above. (If you don’t have Spotify’s free soft­ware, down­load it here.) If none of these tunes do it for you, con­sid­er giv­ing iTunes’ 27th most pop­u­lar pod­cast, Sleep With Me, a chance. Or, let us know in the com­ments below what music, if any, helps calm your nerves and soothe your tired brain as you climb into bed after a long day.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stream 58 Hours of Free Clas­si­cal Music Select­ed to Help You Study, Work, or Sim­ply Relax

Music That Helps You Write: A Free Spo­ti­fy Playlist of Your Selec­tions

Free Audio: Go the F–k to Sleep Nar­rat­ed by Samuel L. Jack­son

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (11)
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  • Barb Drummond says:

    I slept through Richter’s broad­cast at home, as did many oth­er peo­ple. I woke up a few times, but each time I felt like I was in the com­pa­ny of many oth­ers. It was a real com­mu­nal event. I woke up feel­ing great, though a bit tired.

  • k says:

    I need to lis­ten to post-rock to fall asleep, most­ly Mog­wai, Explo­sions in the sky, If these trees could talk, or Sig­ur Ros. It’s weird to sleep if it’s silent…

  • David says:

    …O.K., O.K., the fol­low­ing is the ULTIMATE mag­i­cal musi­cal elixir for going to sleep: take Enya’s album “Water­mark” (the one that has “Orinoco Flow” on it, though the fol­low­ing for­mu­la does not involve that song), then pro­gram the CD (or make a playlist) to play the fol­low­ing num­bers in *exact­ly* this order: #3 “On Your Shore”, #8 “Evening Falls”, #5 “Exile”, #11 “Na Laetha Geal M’oige”. I dis­cov­ered this for­mu­la years ago by tri­al and error. If this sequence of eeri­ly calm­ing songs does­n’t ease you into sleep, then you must need some *very* seri­ous nar­cotics. (Oh, and, Josh Jones, you are absolute­ly right about Enya; *nev­er* be ashamed of lov­ing her music. She may be the only musi­cian slot­ted as “New Age” whose music is not insipid tripe; in any case, she’s quite bril­liant in her own way.)…

  • Georg says:

    I tried to fol­low, but fall asleep too. I record­ed the set and hope to see for­ward, there will be a lifeper­for­mance here jn Berlin

  • Georg says:

    I will give it a try

  • Francois says:

    Moby Lets You Down­load 4 Hours of Ambi­ent Music to Help You Sleep, Med­i­tate, Do Yoga & Not Pan­ic

    This is not “down­load­able” but requires a Youtube con­vert­er and most of them are loaded with tricky spy wear.

  • Francois says:

    What good is this? I can’t down­load and and it will not work with a Youtube con­vert­er.

  • Liam Flint says:

    This is one of the best arti­cles writ­ten under this cat­e­go­ry. To my knowl­edge the best way to lis­ten to these songs and get ben­e­fit­ed out of this, is to cre­ate a playlist out of the men­tioned ones. When mak­ing a switch between any stream­ing plat­forms, use this tool to migrate it as well. Now we can feel calm and com­posed for a life­time!

  • jimmy says:

    Pow­er­ful sooth­ing music for your relax­ation and spir­i­tu­al ele­va­tion.
    Man­i­fest any thing from soul fos­ter­ing play list

    Morn­ing Relax­ing Flute music | Sleep Music | Deep Med­i­ta­tion Music

    Morn­ing Med­i­ta­tion Music ~ Very Calm Music for Stress Relief

    Peace­ful Piano Music For Stress Relief | Beau­ti­ful Relax­ing Music

  • MetalepticFit says:

    All music soothes the soul, and some does put you to sleep while oth­ers make you come alive.

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