Around 10 p.m., Lindsay Colford settles into bed with the drawling, soft voice of Matthew McConaughey, who is about to take her on an audio journey through the cosmos until she falls asleep. Some nights the sound of Harry Styles delicately reciting a bedtime poem echoes off the walls. And other evenings, Régé-Jean Page calmly tells the story of an English prince.

Colford, 39, an executive assistant from Tinton Falls, New Jersey, is not alone. Thousands of other adults sleep with storytellers, famous or not. In our never-ending quest for a good night’s sleep, bedtime stories are the last weapon in the arsenal.

No longer just for kids, bedtime stories are a key part of many mindfulness and meditation apps, which have exploded in popularity throughout the pandemic. It doesn’t stop there. The internet is full of bedtime stories for adults, and many bespoke sleep story podcasts, like “Get Sleepy” and “Sleep With Me”, exist. There’s a reason adults are drawn to bedtime stories, and it goes beyond fantasy and nostalgia.

“A bedtime story works by diverting the mind from self-sabotaging thoughts and worries, which allows the body’s adrenaline to go down so the brain can go into a sleep state,” said the Dr Christine Won, associate professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine and medical director of the Yale Center for Sleep Medicine. “A story, more than music or background noise, is more likely to distract the stubborn mind from what is causing emotional distress.”

“Bedtime stories help me switch off. Sometimes I don’t even remember going to sleep, ”said Colford, who chooses his stories in the Calm app based on the narrator’s voice and a sense of familiarity.

Paul Barrett, a 59-year-old consultant in Denver, began listening to bedtime stories early in the pandemic to try something new. As a frequent business traveler, Barrett has used the Breethe app to help him relax in different time zones. Seeing new bedtime stories popping up in the library piqued her interest.

“I started with the classics. I remember Jane Eyre was like Ambien in high school, ”he joked. “After not traveling for so long, I listened to stories related to the destination. “

Overall, travelogues tend to be the most popular, especially train travel. Their descriptive details, sense of place, existence in the present moment, and the occasional educational elements help many listeners get out of their heads. Since the start of the pandemic, bedtime travel stories have appeased FOMO in some people.

The Calm app offers more than 200 options (called “Sleep Stories”), which have been listened to more than 450 million times, according to the company. The Breethe app has over 100 stories in its catalog and is introducing one new bedtime story per week to meet demand. For Hatch, a customizable sleep system with an accompanying app, bedtime stories are starting to surpass their typical sleep content, like guided meditations and soundscapes.

That doesn’t mean they work for everyone, though.

“I found listening to sleep stories to be very entertaining instead of calming,” said Marian Alaya, 39, of Long Valley, New Jersey. Now she prefers white noise or guided meditations. “When bedtime stories were introduced I decided to try something different, and I’m glad I did. I love the way the stories help me visualize all the details – I find it very relaxing, ”said Nancy Chernoff, a 60-year-old small business owner from Montreal. Without the comfort of her dog one night, Chernoff turned to “Fido’s Journey to His Furry House,” a story about Breethe about a rescue dog.

“The stories engage my mind enough that I can visualize the details of the story rather than focusing on other more stressful thoughts that so often come up at bedtime,” said Chernoff, who also enjoys the stories. travel stories because of their richness in detail.

Dr Kelly Goldman, a radiation oncologist from El Segundo, Calif., Noticed that during her nightly ritual with her son, she was also getting tired. Finally, she wondered if they were going to work on her too.

“When the pandemic started, it was a really stressful time at work for me. I’m a doctor at a radiation oncology center with cancer patients who are at real risk of getting very sick with COVID, ”Goldman said. She found brief peace through quiet bedtime stories with flowery language “where nothing is really happening”.

“They feel comfortable,” she said. “I kinda feel like a kid again.”

These apps and podcasts offer a wide variety of bedtime stories, which is good because experts agree that there is no one size fits all to sleep on. There are whispered stories for fans of automatic sensory meridians response; stories from the classics; travel trips; original stories centered on a theme, such as vacations; a whole category called “boring”, with banal recitations by design of things like the art of bread-making; lyrical poems; and stories recited by recognizable celebrity voices.

It might sound simple, but creating the perfect bedtime story for adults is quite an art.

To start with, it should be engaging but not overly stimulating. In Calm’s “A Very Proper Tea Party”, narrated by Dame Mary Berry, the pinnacle of the action is a cat dozing off in an English garden after high tea. The characters should not be too complex. There should be details (often very descriptive details) that envelop the listener in the scene and keep the mind from wandering. The ideal duration is between 15 and 30 minutes. In addition, there is the perfect background music.

And then, of course, there is the voice. The narrator can make or break a story. Cadence, tone and energy matter. Listeners love to repeat bedtime stories, so there has to be a perceived connection and element of trustworthiness, which can be difficult to quantify. This is why many classics succeed so well. When Breethe presented a cover of “Cinderella,” it became their top performing track in October, they said. Hatch has also prioritized nostalgia in its library, commissioning titles like “The Velveteen Rabbit” and “Peter Pan”.

This intangible reliability sometimes comes in the form of famous narrators on Calm. LeVar Burton of “Reading Rainbow” fame takes listeners on a “Journey to the Stars”. Lucy Liu invites them to the “First Moon Festival”. Cillian Murphy talks about “Crossing Ireland by Train”. Chiké Okonkwo recites Shakespeare’s sonnets. LeBron James is the “King of the Sleeping City”.

Rebecca Robbins, associate scientist in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School, said bedtime stories for adults made perfect sense.

“Children are among the best rested in our society,” she said. “It’s easy to think that we as adults are somehow immune or too mature for these habits. But the truth is, we could all benefit from applying the techniques we use with children.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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