As a creative night owl whose mind works best after midnight, my sleep schedule has been one of the hardest things to control over the years. It’s impossible to fall asleep quickly. People who can doze off in a matter of seconds truly amaze me. What is it that they’re doing?
Short of drugs (I’d rather not become dependent), I’ve tried everything from counting backwards to late-night yoga to ambient nature sounds (which kind of works). But nothing works consistently and my mind is always in overdrive.
I’ve accepted that I may be an insomniac, and there’s some comfort in the fact that I’m not alone. This week The New Yorker did a three-part series on sleep that spoke to my soul: “Why Can’t We Fall Asleep”; “The Work We Do While We Sleep”; and “The Walking Dead.” According to the first article in the series: “Thirty-one per cent of us sleep fewer than six hours a night, and sixty-nine per cent report insufficient sleep... We are, as a population, sleeping less now than we ever have.”
The one thing that helps me ease into a peaceful slumber the most is chill music. It must be scientifically proven that it’s easier to fall asleep to the sound of soft tunes in the background. Here’s a playlist for nights when you can’t sleep, which is basically every night. IMPT: If you’re a person who doesn’t sleep alone, do your S.O. a favor and throw on some headphones as this rocks you to sleep. Listen here via Spotify.
1. Sade, “Your Love Is King”
The saddest thing about my self-diagnosed sleep problem is that it’s not even like I’m doing anything productive (unless it’s one of my creative-spurt nights). I’m usually laying in bed, scrolling through Twitter or biding my time with Netflix.
Preferably, I start off with songs that have a slight kick while I’m still awake, and gradually take the chill level down. Smooth jazz is like a sleep aid in itself, so the opening sax notes on “Your Love Is King” immediately put me in a mellower mode. Actually, a straight Sade session alone will do a lot of good for your sleepy soul.
2. Outkast, “Prototype”
This is my hands-down favorite Andre 3000 solo record, a postcoital serenade that could double as a sweet lullaby. While Three Stacks in tenderly crooning, “I think I’m in love again,” I’m thinking about my pillow. Maybe I’m lovingly caressing it.
3. Janet Jackson, “No Sleeep”
It might be predictable to include Janet’s new joint here, but I have a feeling she knew I’d be making this playlist and recorded this song just for me. The title belies the purpose of this playlist and yet it’s a record that’s undeniably made for relaxation.
It goes without saying that sex jams double as weed jams, which triple as sleep jams—a song with a slow, sensual tempo can, in theory, help you chill out and fall asleep quicker. Still, caution is needed. Super-horny songs also make you want to do other things and only distract you from the best thing in life next to sex, which is sleep.
4. Tinashe, “Bated Breath”
I’ve played Tinashe’s Aquarius album at a super low volume before bed on occasion to ease my mind. On this one, she drawls out her lyrics so deliberately that it feels like she’s literally hypnotizing you with her breath.
5. FKA Twigs, “Closer”
FKA is a master at making these simple haunting tracks that lull you into the sleep zone your brain is fighting. The majority of her songs, and the best of them, are sensual beating rhythms that creep into the night. With this, I can lose myself in the swirly echoes and repetition and let my mind drift.
6. Quadron, “Better Off”
Hearing this Quadron song for the first time made me want to know more about Quadron. It sounds like something you would’ve heard in a ‘90s era soul lounge on a playlist with Amel Larrieux and Badu.
7. Kool and the Gang, “Summer Madness”
A classic hypno-jazz instrumental groove that hits the spot, especially if you leave the window open to feel the breeze.
8. Erykah Badu, “Incense”
Instrumental-heavy tracks are obviously the best sleep-prep songs to avoid clouding a brain that’s already overloaded with stuff. This has all the right dreamy chords to set the mood for some good ass sleep.
9. Maxwell, “The Suite Theme”
Maxwell albums in general get the job done (he has songs that are just five-minute-long jam sessions). But Urban Hang Suite specifically is one of those albums you can have on repeat for multiple occasions, whether you’re trying to fall asleep or trying to get it in.
This is the closing track on Urban Hang Suite and you can hear Maxwell quietly whispering and moaning in the background at certain points—and then a short falsetto bridge in the middle—but it’s mostly just pure sexy sax-driven instrumental goodness, the perfect nightcap.
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Art by Tara Jacoby.