Jeff Bridges’ Sleeping Tapes: An Insomniac’s Review

I woke up at 2 AM last night and didn’t go back to sleep! It was great, and by “great” I mean nerve-wracking and tiresome. The night before that, I had a trauma nightmare and woke up in the middle of the night. It’s great. Super great. So great that I’ve given up completely on the notion that I could actually get more than four hours of sleep per night.

Anxiety is killer. Chronic, severe anxiety causes actual physical pain over time. When anxiety interferes with your sleep, you start running into a vicious cycle wherein you can’t sleep because you’re anxious, and you’re anxious because you can’t sleep. I’ve checked off sleep hygiene (sleep in a dark, quiet room; don’t look at your computer for an hour before you go to bed; eat a lot of protein early in the day, and so on) and supplementation; now I’m starting to address the aforementioned physical pain, because between weight lifting, running, and severe anxiety, I am in constant pain of one kind or another, and that doesn’t help either.

So there are all of those solutions — but then there’s also the core issue, the anxiety itself. I get asked, “What are you anxious about?” a lot, and the answer is something like “What do you mean?!” Because that’s not how chronic anxiety works — it’s not stimulated by one particular thing, and then once you’ve addressed that thing, it goes away. Maybe a slightly more descriptive answer is “Everything, always, no exaggeration.”

Anxiety is basically fear, or an unwarranted reaction of fear in response to a situation that is not actually threatening (here’s a cute and handy video that explains it in really simple terms). Imagine the cumulative effect of being afraid all day without your brain actually requiring an external stimulus. Imagine how hard it is to sleep, or even relax, when you’re going into it afraid.

Enter, this week anyhow, Jeff Bridges. You might have seen Jeff Bridges’ commercial during the Super Bowl: He created a website with hosting service Squarespace, DreamingWithJeff.com, to advertise his new spoken-word album, Sleeping Tapes. All the proceeds from the album go to No Kid Hungry, which is a bonus to the fact that the album itself is actually really, really good.

I’m willing to try anything to change my anxious mindset either permanently or just for nighttime purposes, so I downloaded the album and donated $10 so that I could get the bonus EP, Sleeping Further. I didn’t go into listening to it with incredibly high hopes, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Whenever I review something after a particularly insomnious night, I have to add a caveat about my total exhaustion possibly affecting my analysis of the product in question, but in this case, I might be the perfect reviewer.

So, here are the main points I’d make about Sleeping Tapes and Sleeping Further:

It’s really nicely produced. The album and EP both depend a lot on a really lush variety of found and atmospheric sounds, and all of the tracks are mixed beautifully. This was especially true on “Chimes for Dreams,” which is sonically my favorite track. It’d be pretty easy to mess up the mix and come out with a result that is in no way relaxing, but…

Holy crap, is Sleeping Tapes relaxing. There were a few really strange moments in the album, and some of the songs are borderline disturbing. Here are my notes for the track “Ikea”:

“WHAT

IS

HAPPENING

OH GOD

OH GOD

OH GOD”

(I told you I was tired.)

However, while I don’t think that all of the tracks would necessarily put me to sleep, I was, by the end of the album, filled with a really strong sense of contentment. I mean, “Feeling Good” is just Jeff Bridges reading affirmations. And really nice affirmations! Things that you would very much like to be told about yourself, whether or not they’re necessarily true (“You order well at restaurants” may not apply to everyone, but it’s nice to hear).

Four of the tracks — “The Raven,” “The Hen,” “Ikea,” and “My Keys” — are something akin to bedtime stories, depending on what you’re willing to consider a bedtime story. They’re all very visual, which I imagine is meant to help you to transition into dreaming. “My Keys” is my favorite track on the album, because it’s a sweet and simple story that’s matched perfectly with its backing music. I left that track feeling at a superb and blissful peace.

“Temescal Canyon” is a really great guided meditation through a hike in (duh) Temescal Canyon, with some really quirky moments (you’re skipping rocks and then oh hey, it turns out they’re gold dubloons!). Again, I don’t know if I could fall asleep to it, but hot dang could I meditate to it.

All in all, I’m not sure that the album is strictly about getting you to sleep, so much as getting you to approach thinking differently. In “See You At The Dreaming Tree,” Jeff Bridges talks to some kids about dreams, describing how he used to plan with his kids to meet them in dreams. I noticed that “Seeing With My Eyes Closed” constitutes basically a dialectical behavioral therapy approach to calming down during a panic attack — looking at things, and then telling yourself what they are (it helps to ground you in reality and separate your rational thinking from the panic attack). In this case, he’s imagining things and telling himself what they are, which instead of grounding you in reality would have the effect of grounding you in your imagination, while giving you choice over what you’re imagining as you transition into dreaming, which for a nightmare sufferer sounds like heaven.

I could definitely get to sleep listening to Sleeping Further. And, in fact, I caught myself starting to drift off repeatedly while I was listening to it (shhh, don’t tell Amelia). Sleeping Further is really just sounds — meditation bowls, Jeff Bridges and other people chanting, music — rather than having the additional narrative of Sleeping Tapes, which I think I and plenty others might find relaxing but not necessarily sleep-inducing.

The whole album is just really big-hearted. There is not a single moment of even irony or sarcasm; it is totally earnest and kind. Which, you know, you’d want in a sleeping tape, but it’s just a really refreshing break from the constant inundation of snark and double-meaning we get from most of our cultural products. The album isn’t hokey or sort of low-level creepy the way some meditation and relaxation tapes can be — Jeff Bridges seems to really mean what he’s saying, and he’s totally chill and not presumptuous about having weird, passing thoughts and ideas and chasing after them. And he really seems like he wants you to relax, and feel good about yourself, and be happy. And I’m so down with that way of being.

Buy Sleeping Tapes at dreamingwithjeff.com.

[Screencap via Dreaming With Jeff, background via Shutterstock]

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