Skip to main content

Music for sleep: the best ambient albums to help you relax

Music for sleep: the best ambient albums to help you relax
(Image credit: Jóhann Jóhannsson)

For something so crucial to our existence, getting to sleep is frustratingly difficult to do on purpose. The more effort you put in, the more rapidly it slips through your fingers.

It isn't just sleep, of course, the same goes for most forms of relaxation and meditation. It is perhaps the one area in which putting your mind to it has the direct opposite effect.

But there is always music. Below are a handful of records, old and new, that we use to help coddle our weary brains: rich textures and calming melodies that often appear to open up the ground beneath to let us sink in.

While sleep may still prove elusive, not least because these records' beauty begs you to clasp hands and travel along with them, we believe there are numerous opportunities for blissful meditation herein.

So get comfortable and prepare to let your mind wander.

Sleep by Max Richter (2015)

(Image credit: Max Richter)

Composed for piano, organ, strings, soprano vocals and various electronics, this 8.5-hour project, comprised of 31 compositions, is so called due to its intention of scoring a full night’s slumber. The only problem is the ease with which you can get lost in its arrangements, floating in between the notes and so never really nodding off in the first place.

Mixing Colours by Roger Eno & Brian Eno (2020)

(Image credit: Roger Eno & Brian Eno)

While Mixing Colours, released in March this year, mightn't quite reach as far as Brian Eno's more experimental ambient works, this collaboration with younger brother and pianist Roger Eno affords a tender, familial embrace to its listener. The process was simple – Roger would send Brian MIDI piano parts, and Brian would manipulate them – and the resulting work certainly benefits from that lack of ornamentation.

Gymnosphere: Song Of The Rose by Jordan De La Sierra (1977)

(Image credit: Jordan De La Sierra)

Jordan De La Sierra, a student of both Terry Riley and Pandit Pran Nath, recorded his 1977 work Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose in a small basement studio in Berkley before playing the tapes at the walls of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral and capturing the resulting echoes and reverberation. Mixing the two recordings together, the result is an ethereal sonic mist, with notes played very deliberately then manipulated by space.

Selected Ambient Works II by Aphex Twin (1994)

(Image credit: Aphex Twin)

This second volume of Aphex Twin's ambient works is definitely more befitting of its moniker, but it retains an uneasy dreamlike edge despite losing most of the percussion and intensity of the first collection. It may be slightly more twisted than some of the other selections on this list, but it stops a fair bit short of sinister.

The Disintegration Loops IV by William Basinski (2003)

(Image credit: William Basinski)

Perhaps safest to leave discussions of which of William Basinski's Disintegration Loops works is best to the confines of art student house parties, but for our money this is the most mentally soothing. The sound of tapes disintegrating as they are continually looped – the unexpected result of Basinski attempting to digitise his old compositions – the luscious textures on offer here are paralleled by the hypnotic repetition of simple yet effective chord progressions.

And Their Refinement Of The Decline by Stars Of The Lid (2007)

(Image credit: Stars Of The Lid)

Six years after releasing the masterful Tired Sounds Of Stars Of The Lid, Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie returned with another two-hour minimalist symphony in the shape of And Their Refinement Of The Decline. Awash with reverberant drones and gently unfolding progressions, it feels like a journey upwards rather than across.

Ruins by Grouper (2014)

(Image credit: Grouper)

It is mostly instrumental music that best helps us disengage with our surroundings, but Grouper's delicate lullabies are a clear exception. This, Ruins, is probably Liz Harris's most wholly soothing record, but most could equally fill this space.

Seven Waves by Suzanne Ciani (1982)

(Image credit: Suzanne Ciani)

Suzanne Ciani's debut is a gorgeously mellow and even romantic example of new age electronic music, recorded over two years on equipment that at once almost dates it and leaves it sounding timeless. Gentle, undulating synths and pads bob on the sea over each wave, taking the listener out with them.

Tomorrow Was The Golden Age by Bing & Ruth (2014)

(Image credit: Bing & Ruth)

Ensemble leader David Moore trimmed the 11-piece group who recorded Bing & Ruth's debut album down to seven for this enchanting follow-up. Two clarinets, two basses, a cello and tape delay accompany Moore's piano, melding chamber-like instrumentation with almost post-rock composition.

Till Human Voices Wake Us by Siavash Amini (2014)

(Image credit: Siavash Amini)

The first of Siavash Amini's works to be released on a label outside Iran, Till Human Voices Wake Us is a collection of ten minimalist experimental tracks all based around poems by T.S. Elliot, which combine digital textures with the composer's emotive and sparse guitar playing.

Piano Cloud Series: Volume One by Various Artists (2016)

(Image credit: 1631 Recordings)

This collection of lilting piano compositions is the work of Swedish label 1631 Recordings, and includes the work of co-founder David Wenngren (Library Tapes) alongside artists such as Nils Frahm and Peter Broderick. This volume is as good a place to start as any, but there are more, featuring pieces written by The Album Leaf and Eluvium among dozens others.

Screws by Nils Frahm (2012)

(Image credit: Nils Frahm)

His piece featured in the collection above is a mere drop in the ocean when it comes to Nils Frahm's deeply meditative piano compositions. Screws was recorded during an unexpected hiatus when the German composer was in a cast having broken his thumb, so these nine pieces, written using his nine remaining digits, possess a steady and settling simplicity we find incredibly soothing.

Orphée by Jóhann Jóhannsson (2016)

(Image credit: Jóhann Jóhannsson)

 Jóhann Jóhannsson's Orphée is the final solo album released before the Icelandic musician’s sudden passing two years ago. At times hauntingly melancholic, its marriage of orchestral movements and light-handed electronics is permanently beautiful.

Seven Days Walking by Ludovico Einaudi (2019)

(Image credit: Ludovico Einaudi)

Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi's latest work isn't quite as long as Max Richter's Sleep, but at just over six hours Seven Days Walking should see you fairly well rested. Designed to escort the listener on a week's worth of strolls, it is also a fine accompaniment for restful reflection and hopefully, eventually, sleep.

Ego Death by 36 (2018)

(Image credit: 36)

Perhaps more an EP than an album, but Ego Death is among 36's calming bodies of work, comprising four almost Bladerunner-like soundscapes of padded synths. Though just shy of 26 minutes in duration, these are sounds you'll want to hear on repeat.

A Winged Victory For The Sullen by A Winged Victory For The Sullen (2011)

(Image credit: A Winged Victory For The Sullen)

This self-titled debut from A Winged Victory For The Sullen is perhaps exactly how you'd expect a collaboration between Adam Wiltzie (Stars Of The Lid) and pianist and film composer Dustin O'Halloran to sound. It is dreamily cinematic, sparse yet definite: an ideal bedfellow for 45 minutes of deserved rest.

MORE:

  • manicm
    Actually you should have included the quintessential Brian Eno album instead - DIscreet Music. He got the idea for it while in hospital actually.
    Reply
  • Hifiman2007
    manicm said:
    Actually you should have included the quintessential Brian Eno album instead - DIscreet Music. He got the idea for it while in hospital actually.
    Thursday afternoon. Brian Eno . My go to sleep album
    Reply
  • godspeed1
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    Some records require quiet meditation. The music on this list can help you sleep, relax and achieve aural bliss.

    Music for sleep: the best ambient albums to help you relax : Read more
    How about any labradford especially mi media naranja , never hear the ending zzzzz!
    Reply
  • djh1697
    I heard that when Max Richter did his live performance of 'Sleep' in Berlin, he gave the audience beds to sleep on. I used to go to sleep playing sleep. I might try some of the other albums mentioned
    Reply
  • Webster293
    manicm said:
    Actually you should have included the quintessential Brian Eno album instead - DIscreet Music. He got the idea for it while in hospital actually.
    Reply
  • Webster293
    My Eno go-tos: Music for Airports and The Pearl (with Jon Hassell).
    Reply