Sleepytime Playlist on Spotify Music by (2 Stories)

Prompted By Sleepy Time

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Every night my routine for getting to sleep is to play my Sleepytime playlist from Spotify. That’s really what I call it: “Sleepytime.” I’ve been curating this playlist for ten years. It contains more than 1200 tracks, virtually all classical music, including a lot of renaissance vocal music. It’s music with relatively constant sound levels, no abrupt or loud passages, and calming tempos. Yet each has enough counterpoint and musical interest to distract me from the mundane thoughts and worries that would otherwise keep me awake. I play it from my iPhone into my bedroom stereo and set the timer to “Stop Playing” when it reaches the end.

I have a degree in music and musicology and I’ve spent my whole life listening critically to good music. Sleepytime is not your usual collection of syrupy adagios and bargain-bin performances. It’s all high-quality music. I have obscure tastes so there’s plenty of composers and compositions here you’ve probably never heard of before–Palestrina, Dufay, Ligeti, Willaert in addition to Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Chopin. Every track rewards careful and repeated listening. Every track is the best performance I can find on Spotify.

A strange thing happens in my head every night. I set the timer to 22 minutes and put the Sleepytime playlist on shuffle. For the first ten minutes or so I’m listening intently, focusing on the details of the music. But as sleep begins to take over, I start hallucinating images and voices and enter a strange hypnagogic state, halfway between waking and dreaming. I’m still aware of the music but also aware that I’m hallucinating, and for a while I can switch back and forth. It’s a weird feeling. I gradually sink into the dream images and lose all awareness of the music. On a good night, by the time music stops I’m fully asleep and don’t notice.

Here’s the Sleepytime Playlist. It’s private in the sense that I built this only for me, but it’s publicly available to download for anybody with a Spotify subscription and I’ll be flattered if other people find it useful. (I added **S** to the title so I can spot this playlist among all the other playlists on my iPhone without my glasses.)

Profile photo of steve steve

Characterizations: been there, right on!, well written


  1. Wonderful Steve, and welcome to Retro!

    I’m a jazz-lover and not a classical musical devotee consciously, but I grew up with parents who were, and to this day all my radios are set to New York’s WQXR.

    When we’re not home we even leave the music on for the cat. Soul-soothing!

  2. Marian says:

    Thank you for this amazing playlist, Steve, and welcome to Retrospect. I don’t have in-depth knowledge of classical music, but your story has inspired me to explore more.

  3. Suzy says:

    Welcome to Retrospect, Steve! I love learning about your Spotify playlist and how you use it to go to sleep. Genius!

    Btw, you posted the same picture twice, once as your featured image and once in the text of your story, so I deleted the second one. When you post a featured image, you can’t see it in draft, so that’s probably why you thought you had to insert it a second time.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    What a clever use of technology to sooth rather than stimulate. And welcome to Retrospect!

  5. John Zussman says:

    Shit yeah, Steve. I know a bunch of this music — have played some cuts on the piano and sung others in choruses — and this is definitely The Good Stuff.

    Years ago, pre-Spotify, I put about a dozen similar (in some cases identical) cuts on an iPad shuffle and still use it as a calming influence. But I never thought about capturing them in a Spotify playlist. I just downloaded yours to my Spotify library and will try it out. Thanks for doing the heavy lifting and for this awesome Retrospect debut.

  6. I really enjoyed hearing about your routine, your musical taste, and your experiences with using this music to help you fall asleep. I have seldom heard such detail about anyone’s thoughts or images in those minutes that occur right before sleep sets in. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Hi Steve, great list and reflections on that state of awareness when you are almost asleep and hover there, together with the music. Thanks for the generous sharing.

  8. Betsy Pfau says:

    Steve, this is a wonderful idea! I, too, love classical music (I’ve sung in choruses my entire life, and have sung Palestrina in addition to the “greats” you mention after your more obscure composers. My husband used to play SONGS on shuffle as we fell asleep, but that wasn’t good for me, as I mentally sang along (same is true playing music in the house throughout the day; I concentrate on the music instead of the task at hand – it isn’t in the background for me). In fact, that’s how I met John Z and his wife Patti – in our high school choirs and musicals. But listening to orchestral music would be quite lovely!

    I love the way you describe the state you are in by the time your are halfway through the playlist; hypnotic. Fantastic! Thanks for sharing and welcome to Retrospect.

  9. Dave Ventre says:

    A lovely playlist and welcome aboard!

    For myself, I find that any sound that engages my mind in any way will keep me awake. As does deep silence; one cannot win! So, I use a fan or a white noise machine every night. Like a sleep mask for my ears. Luckily I have one on my phone for travel.

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