The Beauty of a Grown-Up Bedtime Story

Thanks to a new trend, adults get to float off to sleep on a sea of gentle, calming stories that do everything but tuck us in.

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Posted in , Feb 15, 2022

Bedtime stories for grown-ups

When my son was younger, I had few greater pleasures than reading him a bedtime story and witnessing his gentle transition into sleep. First, his body would snuggle into a comfortable spot. Then his eyes would get far-away as the story drifted from the page into his imagination. And finally, his blinks would get longer and longer until…..zzzzzz.

Experiencing this as a parent reminded me of my own childhood, bringing back fuzzy memories of my parents’ voices gradually getting farther away as they read, their words getting less discernable as sleep enveloped me.

These days, my 11-year-old son mostly does his bedtime reading solo. But I want and need bedtime reading for myself, as I join countless others in struggling to slow my thoughts enough to slip into sleep at night.

Thankfully, there are a large number of apps that offer “sleep stories” geared for adults. I use Calm, but HeadspaceSlumber and Sleepiest are other popular options—and most if not all offer a free trial period so you can be sure it works for you before subscribing. 

(Also, Guideposts has acquired the company that produces Abide, a prayer app that promotes better sleep and less stress with Biblical meditations. You can read more about it here.)

The stories range from intentionally boring—such as a scientific concept explained in a slow, methodical way—to effortlessly exciting—like travel stories about journeys on famous railroads that are always on time and glide through ideal weather en route to stunning destinations. Some are read by celebrities, others come from voice actors whose soothing pitch is just the thing for a peaceful lights-out.

A recent story in The New York Times described why the trend is so notable—and why, for nighttime over-thinkers like me, so helpful.

“A bedtime story works by detracting the mind from self-sabotaging thoughts and worries, which allows the body’s adrenaline to come down so the brain can transition into the sleep state,” Dr. Christine Won, associate professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine and the medical director of Yale Center for Sleep Medicine told the Times. “A story, more so than music or background noises, is more likely to force the stubborn mind’s attention away from whatever is causing emotional distress.”

Reading this was a major “a-ha moment” for me, as it perfectly captured how white noise or soft music often fail to out-compete my busy brain at bedtime. And so, tonight, I’ve got a decision to make. Am I going to board a train for Edinburgh, or will I learn how medieval artists made mosaics in Marrakesh?

The best part is, no matter where I start my bedtime story, I know it will end with me breathing deeply, a million miles away, in dream-land.

Do you listen to sleep stories? How do they help you?

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