Sleep is one thing that everyone needs, but not everyone’s relationship with sleep is equal. Maybe you have serious bouts of insomnia, or perhaps you can’t get through the day without a nap. Whatever the case, here are our favorite songs about sleep.
The Best Songs About Sleep That You’ll Love
Why don’t we kick this off with a song from The Beatles.
I’m Only Sleeping by The Beatles
This psychedelic rock song is simply about wanting to stay in bed. It’s been theorized that it was a sort of symbolic piece about not wanting to participate in society, perhaps because of John Lennon’s “bed-in for peace” protests. He and partner Yoko Ono spent their honeymoon in bed for two weeks to voice their disagreement with war.
But in short, the song is about being generally tired with everything and feeling that it’s easier to sleep in and do things on your own terms (“everybody seems to think I’m lazy / I don’t mind, I think they’re crazy”). In fact, a close friend of Lennon, Maureen Cleave—who has written many pieces on the Beatles—wrote: “He can sleep almost indefinitely, and is probably the laziest person in England.” Physically lazy, of course, not intellectually.
And maybe he was onto something. After all, many centuries ago a French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, said; “all men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” The age-old quote still rings true today.
I Guess I Should Go to Sleep by Jack White
In this song, Jack White sings about going to sleep as if it’s accepting defeat. He says he’s been walking on a dead-end street for too long so “I guess I should go to sleep,” like there’s nothing else to do. He seems to be talking about a breakup, and adjusting to a new, lonelier life.
He says he’s upset but doesn’t know the right thing to say, so he’ll just go to sleep because “it’s too hard standing on my own two feet.” He details moments that typically are considered relaxing, like taking off his shoes and watching TV, but his tone is somber because he feels stuck.
Sleepyhead by KYLE
This song sums up the paradox of feeling like you’re running out of time yet being too anxiety-ridden to make any big decisions. Sleeping will make time go by faster, but if time is going by and you aren’t doing anything, it feels wasted. Yet, sleep is still needed for a multitude of reasons. And feeling like you are wasting time by sleeping can make you feel even more stuck and set you back further.
Being a “sleepyhead” in this song means more than just being tired. It’s being so consumed and drained by life that you let opportunities pass you by, and during the time you spent feeling this way, you could’ve been taking chances to improve your situation. In this song particularly, KYLE is paralyzed by wishful thinking in a romantic interest. He’s been sleeping and dreaming about her, and realizes “good things are gone by Tuesday morning if you wait too long.”
Ode to Sleep by Twenty One Pilots
People who have struggled with depression and anxiety can probably relate to going to sleep to drown out the uncomfortable feelings. And how upon waking up, things seem fine until “it” hits you again. Singer Tyler Joseph of the alternative duo twenty one pilots (stylized in all lowercase) wrote an entire five-minute song about this in Ode to Sleep.
The song begins with an intense, sort of eerie synth and drum intro before Tyler starts rapping extremely fast about how his anxiety plagues him and he has no control over it. “I feel my soul start leaving, like an old man’s hair receding.” After this, the beat of the drums slows to transition into the chorus and it’s like a whole different song. He says, “I’ll stay awake, ‘cause the dark’s not taking prisoners tonight.”
In the chorus, Tyler sings about how different he feels in the morning. He’s not scared, even though he could’ve sworn demons were calling his name the night before. He questions why these demons would be bothering him in the first place and makes peace with the fact that they must just be intimidated by him. Only to repeat the entire process the next night.
Where Did You Sleep Last Night? by Nirvana
If you listen to Nirvana, you probably know this song. What you might not know is that Kurt Cobain didn’t write it. It is a folk song, and its origins aren’t entirely known, but it came about sometime in the 18th century. It’s also been called “In the Pines” or “My Girl.”
When Kurt Cobain performed his take of the song on MTV Unplugged, the emotions were raw and enticing. It could easily be mistaken for his own song as he put such an original twist on it. The lyrics are simple and verbatim, someone catches his partner cheating and accuses her of it. She seems to feel remorse, as when she’s asked this question she says, “in the pines, where the sun doesn’t shine and I shiver the whole night through.”
Asleep by The Smiths
Again, people who have battled depression probably understand sleeping as a coping mechanism or wishing you could peacefully sleep indefinitely without hurting anyone who loves you. That’s what this song touches on with its somber melody and desperate lyrics.
Morrissey says, “sing me to sleep, I don’t want to wake up on my own anymore,” as if there’s a glimmer of hope in being able to have someone by his side during trying times. Yet in the next breath, he says “don’t feel bad for me,” like nothing could get him out of his rut. It’s been said time and time again that sleep is the cousin of death, which may be why people who struggle mentally turn to sleep as solace.
Sleeping With the Television On by Billy Joel
The song begins with “The Star Spangled Banner” fading out, likely a reference to when television stations would turn off all night and only static would play until the morning (“you’ll wake up with the white noise.”)
Essentially, it tells a story of a man who self-sabotages because he is too afraid of rejection. He would rather hurt someone than get hurt. He says, “I really wish I was less of a thinking man, and more a fool who’s not afraid of rejection.” But because he is a thinking man who is afraid of rejection, she’ll end up Sleeping With the Television On. The irony is here is that that’s probably what he’s doing too, but he’d rather be comfortable with his loneliness than take a risk.
A Pillow of Winds by Pink Floyd
This song by Pink Floyd is about the tranquility of falling asleep, particularly next to a loved one. The narrator details a candle dying down, going to lock the door, and a book falling as someone relaxes. The middle part of the song is about dreaming (“as darkness falls and waves roll by, the seasons change.”)
And the end of the song is about waking up peacefully. The dream is gone, “and I rise like a bird in the haze when the first rays touch the sky.”
Sleep While I Drive by Quinn XCII
What a simple yet incredibly romantic gesture to ask someone to sleep while you drive, just because you enjoy their company. That’s what Quinn XCII wrote about here. When fights arise in his relationship and they need to let it go, he wants to drive around and she can even sleep through it, as long as she’s there with him he doesn’t care.
Sometimes, or a lot of the time, outside factors and stressors are what lead to stress in relationships, and not necessarily the relationship itself. Driving in a car is one of the few times you can be out of your house but still alone. It seems that the car (both metaphorical and literal) is the common ground for this relationship. Quinn XCII says that she can sleep while he drives and “I’ll carry the burden for you.”
How Do You Sleep? by Sam Smith
This song is about being in a relationship that feels like a sinking ship. He perceives his lover as being unfaithful and cold-hearted. The unconcern for his feelings makes him wonder “how do you sleep when you lie to me?” It’s hard not to question how people who treat others poorly can be at peace with themselves.
With this mistrust, though, comes Smith looking for confirmation that he is right. He goes through his partner’s phone, “dialing up the numbers,” looking for proof that he’s not crazy. He lost himself in this process and is tired of “crying myself awake.” He doesn’t want to lose, and he especially doesn’t want to lose himself. So, he eventually decides that this relationship isn’t worth the stress and cuts it off himself.
He’s hoping that “my love will keep you up tonight.” Despite the heartbreaking lyricism, the song has a danceable rhythm and all the elements of a successful pop song. Smith said in an interview with Rolling Stone, “Both personally and musically, I feel so free. More than ever I had so much fun making this record and video.”
I wanted to throw in one personal favorite song about sleep, which comes from Allen Stone.
Sleep by Allen Stone
Allen Stone is a well known name now, but just a few years ago, he was getting the Lisa Stansfield and Teena Marie treatment (meaning, people assumed he was a black man given his soulful voice and operating in a genre of music that was formed in African American culture).
Stone has made his own lane since then, but one of those early songs that helped put him on the map was “Sleep.” On this song, Stone sings about how, no matter what he does, he “never can sleep.” One of my favorite parts of the song actually comes in a spoken bridge, where Stone gets recommendations from friends for how he can get some shut eye—all of which Allen shoots down due to their massive side effects.
I’ve already tried
It makes my throat too dry
It makes my eyes all red
(Take a pill, Al)
What, and end up dead?
It’s never explicitly stated why Stone can’t get any sleep, but the second verse seems to imply that Allen is so consumed with career success, with trying to chase after his dreams, that proper sleeping habits have taken a major hit.
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Sleep, oversleeping or the lack thereof, is something everyone can relate to. Everyone has a different relationship with sleep, and that includes songwriters and musicians. Thus, you’re likely to find someone you can relate to in these songs about sleep.
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