If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Some of our earliest memories are of falling asleep while people are telling us stories or reading them out from a book. Listening to a soothing voice making up a story as they go along immediately conjures up a feeling of quiet and calm, of snuggling inside a blanket and of being slowly enveloped by sleep even as one struggled to stay awake to hear the rest of the tale, even if it was a story one had heard dozens of times before.
So it was probably just a matter of time before sleep stories for adults became a trend, especially as our smartphones become an aid to wellness along with our biggest source of distractions. We’ve dabbled with apps that play nature sounds on loop, with those that ring out soothing and meditative music, and with guided meditation apps where a calm and gentle voice guides you to relax every part of your body till you fall into a deep and peaceful state, and now we have the rise of apps that play sleep stories--long-winded, calming and descriptive stories that are a little more advanced than nature sounds but not so stimulating that your mind becomes too alert.
The paradox of sleep is that the harder you try, the more difficult it becomes. The best thing you can do for sleep is to let your mind relax and not be too focused on finding sleep. While reading, music and soothing sounds do work in different ways for different people, some may find these activities either too stimulating or not engaging enough for their mind to turn off its usual train of thoughts and worries. Enter sleep stories, which represent a happy mean.
“Each one is written in such a way that the listener should never make it to the end. They are full of descriptive prose and, crucially for my stories, a journey that’s interesting enough to capture the imagination and make someone want to hear it, yet soothing enough to make them nod off,” says sleep stories writer Phoebe Smith in The Guardian. “The idea harks back to when we were kids and an adult would read to us to make us fall asleep. It’s an old-fashioned, but tried and tested method that, for some reason, we gave up.” Smith’s stories are available on the meditation app Calm and have been read aloud by the likes of Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley.
Indian mental health platform Mindhouse recently released its own bunch of original sleep stories read out by Indian celebrities. The three stories, A Swiss Mountain Adventure read by actor Konkona Sen Sharma, A Night in the Forest by actor Rahul Bose, and The Ice Crest Beach by actor Amol Parashar, are travel stories that are interesting without being too riveting. “The format blends descriptive storytelling with the technique of visualization meditation, calming ambient music, and great voiceovers, to create a soothing experience for the listener,” says Pooja Khanna, co-founder, Mindhouse. “We’ve also incorporated certain elements of meditation in the content of our stories. So anyone looking for an easy entry point into meditation can use these stories as a way to get more comfortable with a technique like visualization, and then build on this through more structured sessions, and then gradually develop a regular routine.”
Khanna says that even aside from the pandemic, when many of us have been spending way too many hours at our desks without the natural activity of our pre-pandemic lives, leading to restless nights when the mind is tired but the body is not, many adults struggle with sleep. Listening to sleep stories is a better way to build a good sleep routine than taking sleep medication, even if it’s more ‘natural’ options like melatonin pills.
On the Mindhouse app, the stories available have been specifically written keeping certain narrative structures in mind. “The first step was identifying a diverse set of interesting storylines, which included a mix of classic folk tales, nature visualizations, and descriptions of global destinations,” says Khanna. After this, Mindhouse’s writers curated the language, tone, and accompanying music that would help create a better visualization experience for the listener. “And of course the narration is a big part of it all, and Rahul, Konkona, and Amol help bring the stories to life in voices that are familiar,” she adds. While most sleep stories on apps such as Calm and Slumber, and popular podcasts like Sleep With Me, are available to Indians, they are usually in non-Indians voices and accents, and although they absolutely work too, Indians may find familiar accents and speech patterns easier to get started with.
Why do we need sleep stories when there are a number of voice-guided meditation apps that also offer sleep-time routines? “I feel that for many people, strict meditation and silencing the mind is very difficult and intimidating and so they give up. By giving this lush story and mental escape, they may be more apt to connect with the things that they desire and at the very least, hopefully, fall asleep,” explains Michelle Hotaling, a writer and wellness expert who writes and narrates sleep stories for the mental health and wellbeing platform Wysa, in a blogpost on the website.
Sleep stories for you to try out:
Sleep with me: The podcast that describes itself as ‘Bedtime stories to help grown ups fall asleep in the deep, dark night’. With over 900 episodes, this is a virtual treasure trove of stories to get started with, though be careful of not becoming too alert as you hunt for the perfect story.
Calm app: The app has hundreds of stories read out by a variety of narrators, including many well-known voices. These sleep-inducing tales mix soothing words, music, and sound-effects to help you wind down. Calm claims that “most people never hear the end of the story as they have fallen asleep far before the narrator gently speaks his or her final words.”
Where: Download the Calm app on Android Play Store or Apple iStore
Bedtime Stories for Grown-ups by Ben Holden: This popular audiobook by poet and editor Ben Holden combines original storytelling with a treasure trove of timeless classics and contemporary gems that include poems and short stories, fairy tales and fables, reveries and nocturnes–from William Shakespeare to Haruki Murakami, Charles Dickens to Roald Dahl, Rabindranath Tagore to Nora Ephron, Vladimir Nabokov to Neil Gaiman.
Where: Listen to the audiobook on storytel.com
Sleep stories by Mindhouse: Original stories written by wellness experts at Mindhouse read out by Konkona Sen Sharma, Rahul Bose, and Amol Parashar.