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Tell Me a Story

Adult bedtime stories

Tell Me
a Story

A closer look at the growing trend of listening to adult bedtime stories on podcast and meditation apps

The CDC says more than 70 million Americans now struggle with chronic sleep problems. I know I could use more sleep these days. If that sounds like you too, maybe we should try a popular remedy that most of us haven't utilized since we were kids. A lot of adults are bringing back the bedtime story.

Dozens of podcasts, such as Sleep Cove, and online video channels, including Soothing Pod's YouTube channel, offer soothing voices softly narrating detailed stories. But you needn't get lost in the specifics. They exist merely to lull you into a deep slumber

These are not the same bedtime stories of our youth, though. They're designed for grown-up minds, so they tend to be longer, more descriptive, meandering, and without the moral arc often found in kids's books. And everyone from Cynthia Erivo and Mathew McConaughey to Idris Elba and Harry Styles are lending their legendary voices to these calming tales on meditation apps like Calm.

According to National Geographic, one genre of these bedtime stories stands apart for adults: Travel narratives. Nearly a third of Calm's 300 bedtime stories (which have been listened to more than 450 million times) are about travel—particularly adventure travel. And 45% of the bedtime stories on the app Breethe (which has been downloaded more than 10 million times) are travel-related.

Why? What makes these stories so dream-inducing? One possible reason why our brains are soothed by travel bedtime stories are “mirror neurons,” a neurologist at Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep tells National Geographic. These brain cells might conflate our own experiences with someone else's. The comforting sense of something familiar and romanticized can help with relaxation and sleep—especially in hushed tones surrounded by gentle sounds.

Or it might simply be that removing the light and noise from the external world allows for an internal world, our imagination, to take over. Nighttime storytelling is ancient. And even getting a sleep story, called up via Siri through my Bluetooth-enabled smart alarm clock, is better for me than simply streaming another show before bed.

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