By this point, we’re all familiar with the prevailing conventional wisdom that looking at screens before bed is bad for us; it is one of the great sources of societal guilt since we nevertheless all use our devices before bed. However, on further exploration of that notion, we’ve learned that things aren’t so cut and dried — there are a variety of perspectives on devices before bed, including the straightforward idea that if using a screen before bed relaxes you, that will certainly help with the quality of your sleep.
With that in mind, we’ve created a set of entertainment recommendations that align with what we’ve learned from sleep scientists. Anything you watch before bed should be “low-challenge shows”: nothing too dynamic, too scary, or too engrossing, lest you become invested and delay your bedtime. You want to avoid “agitation,” so no social media, porn, or anything that would otherwise contribute to “performance anxiety,” in the words of sleep doctor Dr. Janet Kennedy, and nothing with lots of characters or intricate plots to follow. Media that doesn’t contain a clean end point (anything highly serialized, plus basically all social media) is bad. We made three lists (for TV shows, movies, and documentaries) that meet that criteria — and since we keep hearing about people consuming horror media before bed, despite it running counter to every scientific recommendation, we also put together a list of good scary stuff. Below is our playlist of cinematic sleep aids: hours upon hours upon hours of great films to serve your rest and relaxation needs.
When you’re too tired to deal with a romantic war drama spanning decades, the best thing you can do is press “Play” on a romantic war drama spanning decades starring Kiera Knightley. Try to stay awake to see the green dress, but don’t work too hard. –Carrie Wittmer
Enough senior citizens proclaimed this to be the best movie they’d seen in years that it belongs here, all respect to them (and to Jamie Dornan, who deserves to be celebrated). The black-and-white film is quiet and sincere, emotional but not too challenging for your exhausted, overworked, burnt-out brain. –C.W.
The Big Chill
Let The Big Chill, an excellent but mostly plotless movie that is just (hot) adults hanging out in a house, give you a big sleep. The film is set in South Carolina in the fall: The colors aren’t too bright or too harsh, and the Spanish moss swinging faintly in the wind is as tranquil as it gets. –C.W.
Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s novel has one major shortcoming, but it also sports an array of internet spouses in Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, and Jason Momoa. If you want to spend the night together in Arrakis, here’s your chance — Dune’s 156-minute running time and desaturated look aren’t challenges to staying awake but opportunities for falling asleep. — Roxana Hadadi
Let Them All Talk
Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest, and Lucas Hedges on a cruise? This excellent Steven Soderbergh film will turn your body into a cloud. The boat (though a cruise ship) looks appealing, and with the leads speaking sharp but soft Soderbergh dialogue on it, the film is overall a pleasurable mood. –C.W.
Book Club is one of those films that is meant to be watched in every way possible: in a cinema, on an airplane, on your phone, and while you’re trying to get a good night’s rest. Let the fact that Dakota Johnson’s father, Don Johnson, is in a movie about old ladies reading 50 Shades of Grey — even though the connection is never mentioned — melt your mind into your pillow. –C.W.
Interstellar is an overwhelming mindfuck, but when consumed horizontally, it is sleepy-time space tea. Plus in the beginning (and in the end maybe?) there is a lot of math, which should put anyone getting sleeping advice from a pop-culture website to sleep. –C.W.
You know you won’t finish it, and if you don’t finish it, does Jack Dawson really die on a door? –C.W.
David Fincher is our dark-procedural king, and as bloody as his movie about the Zodiac killer is, its methodical quality and steady pacing are easy to slide into. People doing their jobs and doing them well! What a delightful world in which to nod off. Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo hits this same spot. — R.H.
Julie & Julia
Nora Ephron + food + Stanley Tucci starring as a hot, supportive husband. Nothing else could leave your brain more relaxed. –C.W.
Pablo Larraín’s fictionalized film about Princess Diana on a nightmare holiday with the royal family is visually pleasing with gorgeous shots of the English countryside and even more beautiful, luxe costumes. If you are so exhausted that you won’t process how depressing it all is, this is an ideal before-bed film. –C.W.
Call Me by Your Name
A piano- and Sufjan Stevens–heavy soundtrack, a perfect Italian summer, and a very horny vibe will set you up for a steamy night’s rest, if you are so bold as to hit play on Luca Guadagnino’s Oscar-winning 2017 film before bed. No pressure, but just make sure you doze off before the peach scene because you don’t want to get too horny before bed. –C.W.
Legends of the Fall
This film, which stars Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn, and Julia Ormond, follows three brothers living in the Montana wilderness in the early 20th century. Just thinking about it could put you to sleep. –C.W.
British accents plus Julia Roberts’s smile are very likely to activate sleep mode. Notting Hill contains all the modern comforts that basically make it Rain Sounds: The Movie. Quiet British dinner parties, Hugh Grant, a travel bookstore. –C.W.
Ocean’s Eleven, a film that never gets old no matter how many times you’ve seen it on TNT or Bravo, is ideal comfort cinema at this point. Although everything leading up to the heist is important when you’re wide awake, nothing too daunting happens before it in the final act of the film. Instead of counting sheep, just recite the lines you know are coming until you are a log. –C.W.
Here we are again with the Brits. There is something about Nicole Kidman with a blonde bob trying to kill a cute bear that will put a temporary hold on stress and send your body into undisturbed slumber. –C.W.
Set It Up
Even if you’ve never seen it, you know that, despite their differences, Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell will kiss by the end. Please try to fall asleep before Pete Davidson shows up, though. Set to a bouncy but easy soundtrack and starring a cast that is extremely easy to look at, Set It Up could (sorry) set you up for a restful night. –C.W.
It’s not that complicated when you’ve seen this masterpiece too many times to keep track. Although the film does star Alec Baldwin, it’s incredibly comforting with its standard but stunning Nancy Meyers kitchen as well as the presence of Steve Martin and the one and only Rita Wilson. –C.W.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The action in Rogue One doesn’t get too loud or “edge of your seat” until the end of the film. With the sight and sound of Diego Luna as Cassian Andor through tired eyes and a heavy head, you will have the sweetest sleep of your life if you fall asleep to this. –C.W.
Tarzan is more soundtrack than cinema. Phil Collins’s original music is enticing but not too exciting, energetic but not so much that you will want to get up off your ass and dance. (It is not The White Lotus season-two theme, that’s for sure.) Close your eyes, set your screen to its dimmest setting, and let the high-pitched realness of Emily in Paris’s real dad get your ass to bed in no time. –C.W.