Like many of us, I've tried the meditation apps. I've tried the deep breathing and visualization. But nothing is more effective at getting me to pass out in these unsettling times than the right episodes of The Next Generation. I've tried Voyager (too much late-90s energy) and Deep Space Nine (too sarcastic). I even gave Discovery (too much plot) a shot. None of them are as reliable as TNG, regardless of how many times I've seen them.
Try a rewatch of Voyager or Deep Space Nine for a bout of flu or (God forbid) COVID-19, where your brain hurts but you can’t sleep. But, part of why The Next Generation is so suited to sleep for many fans is simple nostalgia for a childhood favorite. More than that, though, the U.S.S. Enterprise shows us a closed, safe world: Data will always struggle with humor, Worf will always glower threateningly, and Riker will always sit backwards on chairs. At the end of the day, life on the ship resets with every new episode. Their version of a future where things are better for humanity — no war, no money, no hate — can feel silly, sometimes. But a little silly faith that things won’t always be like they are, right now in 2020, turns out to be just what the doctor ordered.
This list of TNG episodes is meant to send you into a blissful, happy sleep before the end of the first act. They are not even meant to be watched, exactly — find the episode on your streaming service of choice, put your phone down, and listen to it with your eyes closed. I’ve optimized for episodes that put you out by the 15-minute mark.
The gang notices an ancient Earth satellite floating in space. Worf and Data poke around the decrepit satellite to gently curious classical music before the credits roll. Afterwards, we see they have stumbled on several frozen bodies which they cart back to the ship, only to discover — cue foreboding music — they have been called to the Neutral Zone. Crucially, the ten minutes following this revelation focus on a lengthy meeting about the Romulans, in the observation lounge. In art as in life, extended meetings are a guaranteed ticket to sleep.
Q episodes are all…what they are. And all of them are reasonably well suited to falling asleep while listening to John de Lancie chew the scenery. This one features the Temptation of Will Riker with “an old-fashioned lemonade.”
We get an extended poker scene before the credits, with Worf grouchily intoning “Klingons never bluff!” If that doesn’t do it, there’s a lengthy chat with the admiralty before K’Ehleyr, Worf’s half-Klingon paramour, beams on board — only to leap into a briefing in the observation lounge that honestly could have been an email. Should you not fall asleep during said briefing, it’s a fun episode to watch in its own right.
(I particularly enjoy the strong 1989 energy of K’Ehleyr’s hot-pink-and-black leopard print catsuit and get a laugh out of the casual bloodplay in a PG television episode. It’s not kinky because they’re aliens, you see.)
Listening to the crew conspire to shuffle an overtired, overworked Captain Picard off to Risa with his stack of philosophy books is guaranteed to shuffle your equally overtired self to sleep. I think it’s the idea of an entire crew of people focused on the goal of your personal relaxation (and in Riker’s only somewhat homoerotic case, sexual satisfaction) that does it.
Like Q episodes, Lt. Commander Reginald Barclay episodes are always a safe bet. Repeated clinical trials have shown that this episode is successful by the 15-minute mark, but not usually by the 5-minute mark. Like "Captain’s Holiday" and "The Emissary," if insomnia should set in, it’s also delightful.
I suggest watching the first five minutes of this with your eyes open for the pure pleasure of Worf leading a Mok’bara class (basically, Klingon Tai Chi) followed by Beverly peering intently at mold. Then there’s a brief scene of Picard and Guinan hamming up a hard-boiled 1930s detective holonovel. At last, close your eyes while they all dialogue about wormholes for the next ten minutes (until Beverly discovers something sinister about her mold).
Barclay and Beverly star in a painfully acted scene from Cyrano de Bergerac before the credits. By the time 15 minutes are up, Barkley is well on his way to becoming a super-genius, but not yet a terrifying one.
Everyone forgets who they are and pieces it back together, but not before a long chess scene between Data and Troi. Even better, there’s a bonus bit where Worf thinks he’s captain, and Riker hits on Ensign Ro.
Riker can’t sleep. Beverly tells him to put synthehol in lukewarm milk. Data reads terrible poetry about Spot. Worf also can’t sleep and manhandles his hairdresser. The plot is eventually disturbing, but I’m always asleep before we get there.
Barclay is afraid of the transporter. When he finally agrees to try transporting despite his phobia, no one believes him when he insists “something” is in the beam with him. We get an extended therapy session with Troi before the 15-minute mark where she talks him through “plexing” acupressure points to calm himself down. There is, of course, something in the transporter beam, but I never stay awake long enough to find out what it is. Still, if insomnia hits you hard, you’ll be rewarded with a surprise: Bonus Miles O’Brien content! Our favorite everyman engineer appears in this one as well.
We are gifted with Captain Picard Day before the credits. Riker with a Picard puppet miming the Captain’s voice? A call where a female admiral condescendingly assures Jean-Luc that she definitely believes he’s a “role model”? Yes, please. There’s some tense back-and-forth with Riker and his surrogate Bad Daddy after the credits, but hopefully you’ll be asleep before things escalate.
And, these days? That’s all I want out of 2020 anyway.
T.S. Mendola (she/they) is a writer and editor. Find her online @tsmendola or tsmendola.com