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What to watch and listen to if you can't fall asleep - TV shows and podcasts to cure your insomnia

If you just can't get to sleep we've rounded up the best TV shows, Netflix offerings, YouTube videos and podcasts to help you drift off.

What to watch to fall asleep
Published: Thursday, 25th June 2020 at 4:49 pm

We can all struggle to sleep sometimes, whether it's too hot, your mind just won't quit (and not in a good way) or you're just a bit too anxious.


You could read all the self help guides or Google every tip or trick in the book or you could just read on for our recommendations on what to watch and listen to when you can't sleep.

Whether it's YouTube, streaming sites or someone's dulcet tones in your ear - we have something for everyone.

It's up to you what you opt for, but we've rounded up easy watching, easy listening, background noise, meditative to chilling as well as comforting. So put aside that true crime doc, switch on one of these options.

We've got what to watch on TV or on demand, our team picks, YouTube videos and podcasts. Just take your pick!

What to watch on TV and on demand

Chill with Bob Ross

Where? Netflix

Why? Who better to chill with than Bob Ross? The Joy of Painting sees Ross stand in front of a blank canvas and paint for half an hour. It's all very relaxing.

Planet Earth

Where? Netflix

Why? Nature docs are a great way to lull yourself into a relaxed state perfect for sleeping. David Attenborough's dulcet tones are so soothing we defy you not to feel relaxed.

Fireplace for your Home

Where? Netflix

Why? We often wondered why a roaring fire screen saver was included on Netflix, well, here's your answer. Wack this on your screen and let the sounds and warmth virtually soothe you.

Train Ride to Bergen

Where? Netflix

Why? Thomas Hellum is a Norwegian producer who specializes in “slow TV,” there's a range of these on Netflix and online. The best for nodding off is the train ride series. You can travel between two destinations listening to the gentle rumble of the train on the tracks, watching the scenery go by - nothing happens.

Our top TV shows to watch if you can't fall asleep

The team has selected their top recommendations when you need to nod off.

Classic Doctor Who

Doctor Who – Tom Baker and Lalla Ward

Executive Editor Morgan Jeffery 

Suggesting that classic Doctor Who can have a soporific effect is in no way intended as a jibe (unless we're talking about The Monster of Peladon) – instead, it's the comfort factor that comes from revisiting a beloved story I've watched and enjoyed countless times before that can help ease me into a gentle sleep... thanks to BritBox, every existing adventure from the original show's 26-year run is available to dip into and potentially nod off to. (If you think it'll take a little while, you could always embark on a seven-parter like Doctor Who and the Silurians).

There's something gloriously homely and soothing about classic Who – much as I love it, with its polished visuals, accelerated pace and bombastic musical score, the new series can never relax me in quite the same way.

The OC 

Sci-fi & Fantasy Editor Huw Fullerton

As you lie awake sweltering in the summer heat, it’s the perfect time to transport yourself to an even sunnier world of good-looking insomniacs – though on the OC, they’re more likely to be awake angsting over their romantic liaisons than wondering why they invested in such a tog-heavy duvet.

In the glitzy society of Newport Beach, California the beaches are always beautiful, the jokes are always sharp and the drama is always mellow as our heroes Seth, Marissa, Ryan and Summer fall in love, break up, commit a genuinely shocking array of crimes and generally make for glossy soap heaven.

I can’t think of anything better to gently drift off to – even if, thanks to the weather, you’d probably rather be sampling The A/C.

The Thick of It

Assistant Editor Helen Daly

Ah, the soothing sounds of Malcolm Tucker screaming obscenities at a bunch of failed politicians – that’s what you need to get you straight into the land of slumber… right?

Hear me out: it’s not because I have some unresolved issues, but I do genuinely find comfort in the dulcet tones of arguably the best spin doctor this country has never had. Look, relaxing and getting to sleep is pretty tough at the moment, and when I do finally nod off I can’t help but find my dreams clouded by Daily Coronavirus Briefings, politicians’ scandals and the general “2020 Situation”.

If you’re like me too, why don’t you take a leaf out of my book, and fall asleep listening to Tucker venting basically everyone’s frustrations at a secretary of state? Sounds like bliss to me!

Keeping Up with the Kardashians

Kim Kardashian

News editor Minnie Wright

Why? If you thought the Kardashian/Jenner clan’s spectrum of drama wasn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep, you’d be wrong. The lilting cadences of the world’s most famous reality family have soundtracked many a hungover nap and eased me into a doze on plenty of sleepless nights.

Far enough removed from actual reality, KUTWK is calming in its complete lack of jeopardy; its disconnect from the world the rest of us inhabit oddly soothing. Plus you can drop in and out without actually missing anything relevant because, well, it’s all irrelevant.


Writer David Craig

In lieu of any actual friends to complain to about your inability to sleep, consider the beloved '90s sitcom Friends instead - which quite fittingly had the working title Insomnia Cafe.

This series is a perfect late night companion for numerous reasons. Chiefly, you've (probably) already seen every episode, so there's no need to pay close attention to what's happening in front of you and no danger of getting drawn in by any unexpected cliffhangers. Plus, with Friends being the epitome of comfort television, there'll be nothing to haunt your dreams once you do eventually drift off. Well, except maybe Janice's laugh.

Modern Family

Modern Family (Sky, EH)

Entertainment and Factual Editor Grace Henry

Struggling to get some shut eye? Well, Phil, Gloria, Cam and co will have you laughing all the way back to sleep.

As it says in the title, the comedy – which is available to watch on Sky and NOW TV - is about a modern family of today which you’ll be happy to see isn’t your stereotypical cereal packet family. It includes 60-year-old Patriarch Jay, and his hot and much younger, Columbian wife Gloria, who has a young son named Manny with her ex-partner; Joe’s son Mitch who has just adopted a Vietnamese baby with his boyfriend Cam, and Jay’s daughter Claire - who is married to an eccentric realtor with whom she shares three kids.

As they try to navigate their everyday lives, you’ll find yourself crying of laughter at all the bizarre choices they make, but smiling at the lengths they go to for their loved ones. With episodes just over 20 mins, Modern Family will keep you company until you’re ready to call it a night.

What to watch on YouTube when you can't sleep

Cats, kittens, cute animals

Not YouTube, but you can watch Bei Bei the panda at Washington's National Zoo.

Calming Breathing Bubble

If you're a bit anxious with the lack of sleep controlling your breathing can help. Try the calming breathing bubble to meditate and nod off. There are plenty of meditation videos on YouTube to try including sleep studies.

Footage from Space

Where? YouTube

Why? Is there anything more hypnotic than space. You can watch hours of the ISS footage online.

Watching paint dry

Where? YouTube

Why? Ok, so maybe not paint drying, but there are plenty of 'watching x' videos you can lie back and watch. Whether that's grass growing, or sheep munching hay. 10minutes of your life channel has a whole range.

What to listen to when you can't sleep

Nothing Much Happens: Bedtime stories to help you sleep

Where? Apple podcasts or Google podcasts

Why? The creators sum the podcast up well: "Let's get sleepy Let me tell you a bedtime story. It's a simple story, in which nothing much happens, you feel good and then you fall asleep."

Rainday antiques

Thomas Ling

Where? YouTube

If you’re looking to put insomnia to bed, there’s a sure-fire route to the land of nod: a visit to Rainday Antiques. Sculptured by the mindfulness experts at Headspace, this sensory-centred stroll into the titular treasure trove is specifically designed to onset slumber.

Narrated by a voiceover artist with dulcet tones to rival Attenborough’s, this sleepcast starts with short breathing exercise before taking you through a showery street and to the snug antiques parlour and the many oddities on display. There’s the hippo-shaped futon, the stacks of cosy leather-bound books untouched for years, a mysteriously musical broken gramophone and… well, I don’t know what happens after that. By that point I’m already sound asleep.

You can listen to a 10-minute sample on YouTube now, or a full 45-minute version on the Headspace app.


Check out what else is on with our TV Guide


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