Image: Photograph by HBO Max

Can’t Relax or Sleep? Try One of These TV Shows

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Falling asleep with the TV on is a nighttime ritual for many of us. A familiar show offers a soothing gateway to relaxation. After a stressful day, putting on “The Simpsons” and getting lost in the fictional world of Springfield can provide welcome relief. So many of us are looking for that relief, as about 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems. Telemedicine can help, but we still wonder how we could possibly get eight hours of sleep every night.

The benefits of sleep streaming

Watching TV before bed in moderation can reduce stress and help your brain relax. TVs give off less blue light than smartphones, tablets and laptops, and thus offer a more sleep-friendly alternative to midnight scrolling. Watching favorite TV shows can bring a sense of calm before bed. Have you ever found yourself falling asleep to the familiar voices of “The Office”? There’s a reason these sounds help you sleep. Known, soothing sounds—from music or shows—can promote healthy sleep and effectively treat insomnia for some people.

Experts warn against letting the TV play all night. You do have a simple solution for this. Check your TV remote for a sleep timer function. Almost every smart TV in every price range has a sleep timer that you can access easily, then set for the number of minutes you choose. The TV will fall asleep with you.

Types of TV shows to fall asleep to

“Trees naturally call upon us to slow down, to be in the moment,” Keanu Reeves says in the new HBO Max original “A World of Calm.” It’s an unusual change of pace for the star of action films like “The Matrix” and “John Wick.” Reeves is one of many famous actors and filmmakers gravitating to a new style of cinema focused on something we all need and rarely get enough of: sleep.

Sleep TV shows offer a natural, drug-free sleep solution for those trying to squeeze in the recommended eight hours of shut-eye each night. A better night’s sleep could be as simple as streaming one of these types of shows from your smart bedroom:

  • Meditation shows – Popular meditation apps Headspace and Calm partnered with Netflix and HBO Max, respectively, to create meditation shows that guide viewers through relaxation exercises. These guided meditation shows use proven meditation techniques to help you reach a cool calm before bed.
  • Nature TV shows – David Attenborough, anyone? Nature documentaries like “Our Planet” immerse viewers in a world rich with natural beauty and extraordinary creatures. Complete with evocative narration and calming soundtracks, it hits like Sleepytime tea.
  • Calming shows – When it comes to using TV as a sleeping tool, familiarity reigns supreme. The shows you’re most familiar with offer a unique kind of calm—you don’t have to think too hard because you already exist in the world the writers built. Just make sure you pick a familiar show that isn’t too action-packed or mentally exhausting to follow. Many cooking and painting shows are especially calming and good picks to assist sleep.
  • Slow TV/slow cinema – This genre has gained traction in the last year, featuring a wealth of long, slow livestreams of destinations around the world. Slow cinema is a bit different, emphasizing long takes and stillness. The result is the kind of neorealism on display in Kogonada’s 2017 film “Columbus.” Intrigued? There’s a short documentary that sums it all up

Eight shows and films to watch before bed

1. “Columbus” 

This slow cinema classic tells the story of Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) and Jin (John Cho), who convince one another to do the thing they most need to do. Director Kogonada’s long takes linger on the beautiful architecture in Columbus, Indiana—and provide a degree of stillness unmatched in modern cinema.

Where to stream: Apple TV, Google Play and Prime Video 

2. “Happy Hour” 

It’s more than a bit ironic that “Happy Hour” clocks in at just over five hours of runtime (you can stream it in three parts). Another example of slow cinema, this Japanese drama features stunning shots of Kobe, Japan, and an hour-long scene in a meditation class.

Where to stream: Prime Video

3. “Headspace Guide to Meditation” & “Headspace Guide to Sleep” 

These shows were developed by Vox Media specifically to help viewers relax and sleep. A total of 15 episodes highlight mindfulness to calm the racing thoughts that often plague us when we’re trying to fall sleep.

Where to stream: Netflix

4. “Our Planet” 

Fall asleep to the soothing sound of David Attenborough’s voice as he guides you through some of the most beautiful places on Earth. “Our Planet” uses calming footage of wildlife paired with sweeping orchestral sounds to create the perfect nighttime watch. 

Where to stream: Netflix

5. “A World of Calm”

With A-list sleep storytellers, including Keanu Reeves, Nicole Kidman, Idris Elba and Mahershala Ali, this series is an immersive nature-filled and nature-inspired show to lull you into dreamland. Better than taking the blue pill.

Where to stream: HBO Max

6. “Mankind: The Story of All of Us”

You may never understand why you can’t fall asleep, but some of humankind’s biggest questions are explored in this calming show narrated by Josh Brolin. How have physics and biology shaped our journey? How did we survive the Ice Age? How did the Industrial Revolution change us? Drift off into dreams of civilizations past.

Where to stream: Prime Video

7. “Slow TV”

“Slow TV” is the epitome of relaxation. Developed by a Norwegian production company, “Slow TV” is marathon television coverage of an ordinary event in its complete length. You can take a seven-hour train ride from Bergen to Oslo or a 134-hour cruise along the northern coastline of Norway from Bergen all the way to Kirkenes. 

Where to stream: PlutoYouTube

8. “The Simpsons”

Now in its 31st season, “The Simpsons” is a staple of American entertainment and a familiar fictional world for countless viewers. The best shows to help you sleep are often the ones you know the best. Say goodnight with Homer, Marge, Bart, Maggie and, of course, Ned Flanders.

Where to stream: Disney+

Sweet dreams!

Program availability may have changed and is subject to change. Streaming services may require a subscription and sometimes an additional fee.

One response to “Can’t Relax or Sleep? Try One of These TV Shows”

  1. Michael says:

    You know what’s missing? The Joy of Painting. That’s my go-to. All episodes are available on YouTube but the one thing missing is a decent remaster, even if only to normalize and balance the audio. Some episodes are much louder than others, but regardless, Bob still has one of the best ASMR voices ever.

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