Illustration: Kyle Platts
We asked celebrities, Vulture staffers, and assorted other bedtime entertainment enthusiasts, “What do you watch, stream, or listen to as you drift off to sleep?” Here, their answers.
“His voice makes me feel like everything is going to be okay.” —Bokeem Woodbine, actor, The Inspection
“I usually listen to old episodes of Las Culturistas to fall asleep. It just feels like two of my best friends are in the other room talking while I’m trying to fall asleep, and it’s very soothing to me. My big piece of advice is old podcasts that you’ve already listened to so you’re not trying to gather new information.” —Joel Kim Booster, actor, Fire Island
“For the last four months, I’ve been watching exclusively shark and oceanic documentaries. Honey, I’m obsessed with the exquisite colors of the coral reef. The sounds of the ocean waves are so peaceful and calming. I know it sounds cray cray, but sharks are my jam. They are such an intelligent, fascinating, and complex species. I get so invested in their stories and backgrounds. The sheer diversity of sharks is incredible. I remember I was watching this documentary about this bull shark trying to find his mama for years, and they finally reunited after a near decade on the coast of New Zealand. Like, can you imagine? This is like The Color Purple for sharks. I’m obsessed.” —Danielle Pinnock, actress, Ghosts
“Usually I fall asleep to one of the many fights on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. There’s something about screaming ladies that’s just so soothing.” —Fortune Feimster, comedian
“I like to watch reunions of The Real Housewives to get to sleep, specifically Atlanta, Potomac, New Jersey, and Beverly Hills. I find these reunions so funny and chaotic, and after 30 minutes or so, I start to fade because they can feel quite repetitive, too, so it’s the perfect thing to fall asleep to for me.” —Bilal Baig, actor, Sort Of
“My pillow in a certain way, the lights pretty much off, water by the bed. Just laid up, ready to go.” —Keke Palmer, actress, Nope
“I need to have a blanket that’s not too hot, not too cold. I need to have a one-leg-out situation. I need to have a pillow that’s turned over to the cold side, and I need a glass of water beside me. And a phone to wake me up, because I’ll be sleeping until who knows when without it.” —Devery Jacobs, actress, Reservation Dogs
“I like a floppy pillow; I don’t like it too thick or when it props my head up too much. I like a fan above. I like to have a breeze on me, and I definitely need white noise.” —Dan Erickson, creator of Severance, a show (basically) about sleepwalking through your job
“I think sleep is an act of resistance. Making sure you’re getting enough sleep, especially as a woman of color, prioritizing my mental and physical health, is a huge part of my success and well-being. I have a serious routine. I shower every night, wash my face, turn down the lights, and turn on a sound machine. White noise is my best friend. Especially in New York City, I find that I’m a light sleeper, so I need something that drowns out the sounds of my neighbors or the sirens on the street. I just try to lie down and breathe — breathe for long enough until I settle into something.” —Jordan Casteel, artist
“I’m so OCD about my bed. If my bed is made, I have to take all the pillows off, and I keep one big white pillow next to me and then I have to have my two sleeping pillows and the teddy bear my boyfriend got for me.” —Trinity Rodman, athlete
“I’m all about that couch nod-off. To be honest, sometimes I just fully commit to the couch sleepover. I break out the blanket, the pillow, the bonnet, and the laptop and just embrace it! I intentionally don’t have a TV in my bedroom (you know, for the good sleep hygiene!), and I try not to watch any TV shows in bed, sooo — I just relocate my highly questionable sleep hygiene to the couch instead. Now that I’m saying all of this out loud, it sounds … borderline problematic? But for getting through the new season of Atlanta, it works great!” —Dayna Lynne North, co-creator, The Best Man: The Final Chapters
“I like to go for a couch/nod-off situation before heading to bed. I have to set the mood: candles (Graziani Sphere Ball are my favorite), a blankie, Lulu (my dog) by my side, and either a seltzer if I’m raging or a martini if I’m really going for it.” —Bridget Everett, actress, Somebody Somewhere
“I love bringing my laptop to bed, and I’ll position it on one side of me with brightness on the lowest possible setting and volume pretty low, too. And then, when I feel myself getting sleepy, I will turn away from the laptop (but it stays on my bed and the Housewives keep chatting), and I’ll turn off my lamp, and usually I’m asleep within minutes of that.” —Bilal Baig
“My setup for falling asleep watching TV is usually with an open laptop resting on the side of the bed that I’m not on. But you gotta be careful. Sometimes you move in your sleep and you knock the computer off the bed. I’ve broken a laptop this way.” —Jack Quaid, actor, The Boys
“Has anybody said ASMR? ASMR is really good, specifically hair-cutting ASMR, when they do the role-playing where they pretend to cut your hair. That’s what I like. I wish I could think of a YouTube channel off the top of my head, but if you just look up ASMR, go with whatever has, like, 10 million views.” —Taylor Tomlinson, comedian
“I once had the flu (didn’t know I had it at the time) and I was locked out of my buddy Chloe Lanier’s house, so I took an Uber to the Arclight to see the Yorgos Lanthimos movie The Favourite. I decided to raise the armrests and lie out on the seats like a makeshift bed. I fell asleep, and when I woke up, Olivia Colman was receiving a hand job and then the screen cross-dissolved into a bunch of bunny rabbits. I’ve since rewatched that movie and I dig it.” —Paul Walter Hauser, actor, Black Bird
“My routine each night is to turn on Netflix and scroll through the options for a good 25 minutes, knowing that the stakes for what I choose to watch are extremely high, that they define me in an essential way, that people are watching, that it matters. At minute 25, a well of panic rises in me and I belligerently blame Netflix for sucking in such a manifest way that it literally ate my night and I move to HBO Max, where I debate if I should watch the second season of shows I only kind of liked the first season of. Then I hear a clock ticking like the telltale heart and I realize that I am going to die one day, and another 25 minutes have gone by. My husband is now asleep. I am a wreck — at this point, I have the countenance of a ‘Cathy’ cartoon — and there is no way I will be able to go to sleep in this state, so I watch a single 30 Rock and wonder if the world has become less interesting or if I have.
I have very vivid dreams, and I’m a problem sleeper, so I don’t fall asleep while the TV is going. Instead, I take about 3,000 mg of Melatonin and begin a comedown that I believe resembles Michael Jackson’s nighttime routine, but if he were afraid of even over-the-counter medications. I would not ‘nod off’ anywhere; people who can do this are a mockery of me. Rather, after years of not being able to get to sleep after watching anything in bed, I realized that I’m only affected when I watch when I’m in a totally supine position. If I sit up in bed, I’m fine. But if I lie down while I watch, the stimulation surpasses my blood-brain barrier (that’s what that is, right?) and hits me too hard and I won’t be able to sleep. So I watch that 30 Rock, bemoan that I’m so indecisive and, frankly, so crazy — my husband is still asleep — and I shut off the TV and begin at least 45 minutes of reading, this time, yes, in the supine position. I have not been able to find proof that sleep is caused by eyes that move from side to side, but if I try to go to sleep without reading, I’ll still be up at 3 a.m., and the self-loathing of just a few hours before feels like the glory days of my night. I sometimes imagine that this eye movement is what EMDR is — that treatment for people with trauma — and, well, read above: It tracks.” —Taffy Brodesser-Akner, creator, Fleishman Is in Trouble
“Back in my younger years, I was a big fan of watching horror movies before bed — maybe I was more courageous then! Or maybe I thought, Well, I’m going to be scared anyway. Might as well maximize the experience. When my brother and I were both living at my parents’ house for a college summer break, he got me pretty good after I fell asleep in the basement watching Requiem for a Dream (which absolutely counts as horror). There’s a TV in one part of my parents’ basement and a fridge in the other, and I woke up extremely unsettled to rattling mechanical noises and spooky intonations that were very much like what Ellen Burstyn’s character in the film hears when her fridge starts terrorizing her. Some of that was coming from my family’s actual fridge, and some of it was coming from my brother, which was actually a solid prank that I must respect. But I didn’t really learn my lesson until years later, when after watching Twin Peaks, I thought, Maybe if I just watch the moment where BOB leaps over the couch and sprints toward us over and over, it will lose its impact. It did not. I fell asleep on the couch to BOB and woke up from a nightmare about BOB, and that put an end to ever using David Lynch projects as sleep-time viewing. For whatever weird reason, David Fincher’s thrillers (like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Zodiac) have since become before-bed comfort viewing for me, but David Lynch’s stuff? As lovely as the man seems, he can take BOB, the Mulholland Drive figure behind the diner dumpster, and every single thing that happens in Lost Highway and they can all fuck right off.” —Roxana Hadadi
“I saw Night of the Living Dead when I was 9, and it scared me so much that I needed to go to sleep listening to books on tape for the next decade, just to distract myself from the noise of the zombies who were obviously right outside my door. In my teen years, it became more out of habit than out of fear, but I did need to make a conscious effort to wean myself off of them and sleep in silence before going off to college.” —James Grebey
“This is gonna sound like the most Gen-Z, basic answer, but TikTok. I feel like I scroll through it and, like, the more I scroll, the more tired I get. And I’ve been really into the Colleen Hoover books. Like, obsessed. So I’ll read that. I go through her books so fast. I literally hated reading, and I read one of her books and I was like, There’s no going back.” —Trinity Rodman
“Lately I put on The Great British Baking Show ’cause the gas in my building has been turned off for a year (thank you, gas leak) and I can’t bake. So I just watch and think, That looks good, but what’s the point?, and boom — I’m asleep.” —Betsy Wolfe, actress, & Juliet
“I like watching the kids’ version of Bake Off. I cry almost every episode, and their bright eyes and bushy tails are a warm hug before I black out.” —Bridget Everett
“Telling myself I can fall asleep while listening to music is the great lie of my lifetime, on par with I will stick to my workout schedule or It sounds natural when I end conversations with ‘peace.’ I’m either so tired I doze off instantly and keep waking up for milliseconds at a time until I admit defeat and take off my headphones 30 restless minutes later, or I’m not tired enough and I just listen to the music with my eyes closed, engrossed, until it’s irresponsibly late and I have ruined my ability to function the next day. And yet I attempt this every Friday at midnight, hoping to enjoy the week’s album releases unbiased before the capital-D Discourse kicks into high gear the next morning. The kicker here is that, owing to my deviated septum, I also have sleep apnea, and I have to use a CPAP machine to keep from, as my cousin once referred to it, ‘choking on my own face.’ So between my breathing mask and my over-ear headphones, my head becomes more gear than man, both pieces of equipment effectively stopping the other from doing what it’s designed to do. I’m like a human embodiment of the Steven Wright joke about what happens when you put a humidifier and a dehumidifier in the same room and let them ‘fight it out.’” —Hershal Pandya
“I’ve been falling asleep to it for about 15 years. As I was falling asleep to other shows on TV, I found that I couldn’t fall asleep as well if it wasn’t an episode of something that I knew practically by heart. With Futurama, I was free to let my mind wander and come back to it as I felt like it. That made it much easier to relax. Once I stumbled onto that, I stayed with Futurama pretty much exclusively.” —GillyBoatBruff, moderator of Futurama Sleepers, a 26,000-member Reddit group devoted to falling asleep to the TV series
“Always AirPods. I have a special set just for this purpose. This started when I lived in New York and worried about the sound of my TV waking my neighbors on the other side of the wall. Now I have no neighbors on the other side of the wall, but AirPods are still a required element of this nighttime ritual.” —Jonathan Kasdan, co-creator, Willow
“Gotta do AirPods. Gotta really get in there — they’re in your head; they’re your friend; they’re very close to you. Fall asleep next to your laptop. That’s what I would say.” —Taylor Tomlinson
“As soon as I feel myself wanting to fall asleep, I turn off my show and switch to audio mode. I have special earbuds dedicated to sleeping. I use AirPods during the day, but at night I like the soft, squishy kind. I even have two sets of bedtime earbuds: one for home and one that is always in my tech pouch for travel. I can’t fall asleep with AirPods in because they’re white and I worry that they’ll fall out and get lost in the sheets while I’m sleeping.” —Nina Jacobson, producer, The Hunger Games
“I find it very calming to open Google Maps, drop your little street-view guy into a random place on the planet you haven’t been, then just click your way along a road somewhere and see what’s around. Sometimes there’s a nice vista; sometimes there’s a random scene with people with blurred-out faces. Lose yourself in the vastness of the Earth, and feel like you’re but a speck among the mass of humanity. It’s soothing!” —Jackson McHenry
“Humbly existing at the three-way intersection of Relaxing Energy, Educational Content, and Reasons to Have Cable is the Smithsonian Channel, and while it has a few series that are incredibly soothing to watch — points to Aerial America, which has the ability to knock me into a deep sleep within five minutes — there’s one that I have fallen completely in love with: Mighty Trains. The show is apparently part of a bigger Mighty universe of Canadian docuseries including Mighty Planes and Mighty Ships, but Mighty Trains is special. The concept is simple: Each episode is an in-depth journey on a notable train somewhere around the world, with likable and very-earnestly-excited-about-trains-but-in-a-nice-calming-way host Teddy Wilson acting as a tour guide and pal throughout each trip. Twenty-four episodes have been produced so far, featuring trains in (to name a few) New Zealand, Vietnam, Norway, India, South Africa, Spain, Japan, Ecuador, Thailand, and, yes, Canada, and I hope it just keeps producing new seasons until it runs out of trains for Teddy to hop on.
Mighty Trains isn’t an instant-fall-asleep show so much as an I-need-to-wind-down show. It’s a magic mix of different elements that make me feel cozy: It’s a travel show on which I can see different countries, a train-nerd show on which my eyes start to glaze over listening to Teddy explain what’s happening during a routine engine inspection, and a show touring through weird and/or fancy hotels — only instead of hotels, they’re trains, and often trains for which I’ll never be able to afford a ticket. Also, trains are just relaxing. At least the really expensive ones are.” —Megh Wright
Vulture: Is there anything specific you put on to fall asleep?
Marcia Jean Kurtz: I leave the TV on, and I put it on a timer so that it shuts off in an hour or two hours, and I have either Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, NCIS, CSI: Miami, or — what’s-her-name. She just died?
Yes, uh …
Murder, She Wrote?
“One of the first times I spent the night at my now-husband’s apartment, we fell asleep watching something on HBO. (I don’t remember what we were watching, but this was pre–HBO Max days, so it was linear TV!) I woke up in the middle of the night to Anthony Hopkins monologuing. Hannibal Lecter really freaks me out, but I couldn’t find the remote and didn’t want to wake up the nice boy I was dating, so I just tried to fall back asleep, terrified and nauseous. In the morning, I started explaining that I woke up to The Silence of the Lambs and it was really scary, but halfway through the retelling in the cold light of day, I realized … it was Westworld. In my sleep-addled state, I didn’t notice that Anthony Hopkins was a full 25 years older and wearing a suit, not a prison uniform. Now we exclusively fall asleep to streaming sitcoms, so there’s a much lower risk of an accidental Hannibal Lecter–Robert Ford jump scare.” —Emily Palmer Heller
“Just last week, I woke up around 3 a.m. to the Hulu horror movie Grimcutty. I have no memory of clicking on it or on anything that might’ve led me to it, but yet there it was: the internet meme from hell.” —Jonathan Kasdan
“I actually have a specific process-protocol for going to sleep with movies: I choose something made in the early sound era (1927–’40 or so), usually horror or something with a lot of night scenes or creeping around. I do this because when nobody is talking, it’s usually “silent” (meaning you hear a hiss caused by white noise on the audio track of the print). It’s kind of a white-noise machine. Works great for me.
I might also sometimes choose a ‘slow cinema’ film, often something quite long, like Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó or the extended cut of Fanny and Alexander or La Belle Noiseuse. I know there’s no way I am going to make it through the entire thing that night anyway, so it’s fine. It’s like rereading a novel that you like chapter by chapter.
I also believe that even though I can’t see the film anymore after falling asleep, the fact that I can hear it means I am still experiencing it on some level. That’s why I never watch a film for the first time when I am on the edge of sleep; I want to experience the entire thing at once, if possible, then revisit it in pieces if I feel like it. But at the same time, I feel like reexperiencing movies that I love in this way encodes them more deeply in my brain and helps me remember them more fully.
My father, Dave Zoller, a jazz musician and composer, used to do something similar when he went to bed at night. He’d put on some of his favorite pieces of classical or jazz, at fairly high volume, and go to sleep listening to them. Sometimes he would put them on repeat. Near the end of his life, I asked him when and why he had adopted this ritual. He said that he started doing it sometime in his early 60s, and the purpose was to memorize what he considered to be the greatest and most innovative music so that if there was an afterlife and it was not possible to re-access those recordings, he would have them downloaded in his brain. I found this very reassuring because my father always said he didn’t believe in Heaven or even life after death, and I took his explanation as an indication that maybe he was hoping he was wrong about that or maybe was hedging his bets a little bit — memorizing the important stuff just in case.” —Matt Zoller Seitz
Reporting by Alejandra Gularte, Zoe Guy, Bethy Squires, Megh Wright, and Esther Zuckerman