I definitely don’t need any help falling asleep these days. Maybe it’s maternal multitasking, maybe it’s the depleting store of hormones, maybe I have adult onset narcolepsy — I never thought to seek a diagnosis. You know who does? My reticent 16-year-old daughter, who comes alive, animated and desirous of conversation just as I am blacking out between my bed sheets. So I’ve put together a 10-song go-to-sleep playlist so potent that even she might nod off at a reasonable hour. I’m hoping it will reset her body clock so she’ll wake up at dawn like I do, ready for that chat (once I’ve had a cup of coffee).
1. Tonight Will Be Fine (Leonard Cohen cover) by Teddy Thompson
The title encapsulates the hope we all harbor as we climb into bed: a good night’s sleep uninterrupted by the need to pee, spousal snoring, or sudden leg cramps. Cohen’s unmatched lyrical prowess paired with Thompson’s earnest, pure voice and strumming guitar put you in the right frame of mind for slumber. And if you’re lucky, maybe your subconscious will invite the fine redheaded British singer by later, for a visit in your dreams.
2. Taking the Rest of the Day Off by Neil Finn
Whenever I hear this song by singer/songwriter (and former Crowded House lead singer) Neil Finn, I visualize myself in a hammock strung up on a Pacific beach, with a breeze rocking me gently to sleep. You know you’re not going to solve any problems between now and the morning alarm clock, and this song gives you permission to take a mental health holiday between the sheets, for the next seven or eight hours.
3. Circle Game by Joni Mitchell
This one is a bit of a cheat: it’s the song we played for our infant daughters as a lullaby. It’s a lovely, quiet, soothing song that unfortunately had only mixed results. Why? Because by the time Mitchell sang, “So the years spin by, and now the boy is 20,” I’d be gripping my baby girls so tight in an effort to stop the hands of time from advancing, and they’d awake, twitchy and crying again. Still: that’s my baggage, not yours.
4. Cello Song by The Books featuring José González
If you’re a music lover like me, the last thing you want on your going-to-sleep playlist is a lot of catchy lyrics and bouncy rhythms. You’ll end up singing into the flashlight you keep in your nightstand. That’s why “Cello Song” works so well: plucked strings over cello with a humming chorus, hypnotic rather than aerobic. He even sings about “the dreams that came to you when you were young.”
5. 4th of July by U2
This is another ambient tune — and an underappreciated song from U2’s 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire. The short instrumental was on side 2 of the cassette I played myself to sleep with on the boombox next to my twin bed, every single night of my junior year of college. Even now when I hear it, it works like a hypnotist’s trick.
6. Feels So Right by Alabama
This one’s for the country fans. I’m going to dial you back even further than cassette tapes to a little thing called 45s. Do you remember singles? And the record players that had a helpful “repeat” function that would pick up the arm of the record player and reset it to the start until you turned it off? Well, during one fateful visit to my older sister in college, and after one particularly eye-opening introduction to the meaning of the words “keg party”, neither my sister, her roommate, or I had the wherewithal to turn the record player off, which is why we listened to “Feels So Right” 743 consecutive times that night.
Disclaimer: If your partner is not already asleep, skip this song, or realize that neither of you is going to bed for the next little while. Alabama is the equivalent of Barry White.
7. Wish the Wind Would Blow Me by Bob Schneider
Still longing for sleep even after six songs? This quiet, emotionally saturated tune from Austin-based singer/songwriter Bob Schneider will reassure you that you’re not alone in your fervent wishing. It’s like having your own personal sleep troubadour. Which may be the next logical step beyond the “Pillow Menus” now popular in upscale hotels.
Oh, and the title? Schneider’s a dirty little imp; it’s a huge part of his appeal. He knows exactly what he’s saying. Again, not necessarily to be played in the presence of an amorous partner.
8. The Darkest Night of All by Lisa Germano
It’s so dark out now, and you are getting sleepy…very sleepy… Germano’s breathy whisper is the perfect accompaniment.
9. Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber
Yes, that’s how seriously I want you to go to sleep. I am throwing classical (delicate, calming classical) music onto this list. Ten-plus minutes of sleep-inducing beauty for your ears.
10. With God On Our Side by The Neville Brothers
This Bob Dylan anti-war song, covered by the brothers Neville on their 1989 album Yellow Moon, works for two reasons. It’s quiet, more of a chant than a song, and it’s looong: six minutes and 37 seconds. If, after the nine preceding songs, you’re not asleep yet, I promise you this one will do it. If you ARE already asleep, there’s an added bonus: The song is essentially a history lesson about every indignity inflicted on man by man. So you may just wake up smarter.
(All videos via YouTube)