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Sleep Disorders

Updated 11 August 2020

Can't sleep? Maybe you should try a bedtime story for adults

Bedtime stories aren't just for kids.

  • Bedtime stories have become a popular tool for adults to help them fall asleep
  • Sleep expert Dr Dale Rae tells Health24 that it's better than medication 
  • Bedtime stories distract the brain from the stress and worries of the day

Soft music, nature sounds, white noise... Many of us have used every auditory method in the book to fall asleep during bouts of insomnia. Some of these might work, but may lose their effectiveness when used too often, just ending up as irritating background noise.  

But, there may be a new solution in the form of an app that offers bedtime stories to angst-filled insomniacs – designed especially for adults. And in less than 15 minutes you could be "gone" – with no idea how the story ends. 

READ | Your sleep habits may worsen your asthma 

What is a bedtime story?

While parents have used this method for centuries to get their young ones to fall asleep, the rise of sleeping apps, audiobooks and lulling podcasts have made this age-old tradition available to those who can no longer rely on their parents or grandparents.

Soothing voices tell you an adjective-filled story of children playing in a hotel room, bears catching kites and other fantastical creatures falling asleep and dreaming of pink clouds and starry skies. 

One sleep-story writer told The Guardian that the key to these stories is that the listener doesn't make it to the end, largely focusing on "descriptive prose" that is captivating enough to get you hooked at the beginning.  

Another important factor is, of course, the voice – an almost ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response)-inducing soft tone that stays on one note, the most popular one being that of actor and comedian Stephen Fry. 

READ MORE | A consistent bedtime is good for your heart 

But is there any science to it?

"Bedtime stories are a distraction for the brain," says Dr Dale Rae, a senior researcher and director of Sleep Science at the University of Cape Town. By using stories that don't entice you to want to "turn the page" and hear the ending, it helps the brain disconnect from the day.

For children, Rae says it's a signal for their brains that's it the end of the day, as well as offering bonding time for families. According to Parent24, it also helps develop children's language and cognitive skills, boosting memory and inspiring creativity through involving their imagination.

But for adults, their function is more about switching off the brain. When we struggle with sleep, it's mostly because we take all the stress and worries of the day with us to bed, replaying the past or future in our heads. Throw in a pandemic, and it becomes twice as bad. 

When you can't sleep due to the inability to switch off, bedtime stories are a perfect tool to fight insomnia. 

They're especially great as an alternative to taking medication to fall asleep as there are no side effects, says Rae. 

Instead of focusing on the external – like drugs – to help you to sleep, bedtime stories work "internally", telling your brain that it's time to let go.

READ | Sleeping in on weekends won't erase your 'sleep debt'

Where to find bedtime stories for adults

Calm

This is probably one of the most popular sleeping apps – although pricey. They source stories from celebrities like Harry Styles and Matthew McConaughey to help lull you into dreamland.

Audible

You can also opt for audiobooks with bedtime stories designed for adults, some of which include sleep hypnosis-style stories that focus on meditation techniques.

Spotify

If you're looking for a podcast-style bedtime story, just browse through the large collection on this music streaming app. One of the most popular ones is Sleep With Me – which takes a different approach to bedtime stories – where bizarre stories and random factoid ramblings get progressively more boring to help listeners drift off. 

READ MORE | Streetlights could be harming your teen's sleep and mental health

Image credit: Pixabay

 

Ask the Expert

Sleep disorders expert

Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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