Why bedtime stories are not just for kids

Tossing and turning, unable to switch off: for many adults, the struggle for a good night’s sleep is real. That’s where bedtime stories – with a twist – can help.

When you were little it might have been Beauty and the Beast or Charlotte’s Web.

Now it is more likely to be a celebrity actor reading a classic tale that you listen to via your smartphone.

If you think bedtime stories are just for preschoolers, think again. A growing number of adults are soothing themselves to sleep with audio bedtime stories via digital apps.

The twist? They’re designed to be so dull that they literally put you to sleep.

More than half of adult Australians suffer from at least one chronic sleep symptom and the Sleep Health Foundation recently found almost 60 per cent of people regularly have trouble falling asleep.

How bedtime stories work

Bedtime stories on apps are usually slow-paced and uneventful, and the narrators are chosen for their softly spoken and non-jarring tones.

Monash University senior psychology lecturer Dr Melinda Jackson says listening to bedtime stories like these is similar to having white noise in the background, or listening to the sound of rainfall or breaking waves.

“There’s a voice in the background but you’re not paying too much attention to what they are saying and that can be relaxing,” she says.

“Some people have so much chatter in their head and they need an external stimulus to shut off from internal thoughts.”

How to use bedtime story apps correctly

Sleep Health Foundation chairwoman Prof Dorothy Bruck says bedtime apps can be helpful in the short term but if you rely on them to get to sleep every night, speak to your GP.

“As we get older, we wake more during the night and if you develop a habit of needing a prop to go to sleep, you may have trouble getting to sleep again on your own,” she says.

“It’s like a baby with a dummy. They need the dummy to sleep, wake in the middle of the night and can’t get to sleep without the dummy because they haven’t learned how to relax themselves.”

Bedtime story apps to try

Sleepiest: This whimsical app can help with bedtime for children and adults. There is a selection ranging from the classics such as Cinderella and Sherlock Holmes to originals like The Adventures of Koko.

Sleep Stories: A series of bedtime stories for adults from the Calm meditation app. A mix of music, sound effects and soothing voices, each story lasts for about 30 minutes and is designed to relax the brain so it is ready for sleep. Readings by celebs including Matthew McConaughey,Idris Elba and Kate Winslet lull listeners into a peaceful slumber.

Sleep with Me: “The podcast that puts you to sleep.” The meandering stories can last for up to two hours – by which time you should be well and truly asleep and never reach the end.

Slumber: This app has been designed by meditation teachers and uses a mix of hypnosis techniques, stories, soothing music and soundscapes ranging from walking through a forest to laying on a beach.

Moshi: This award-winning sleep and meditation app for families has gentle rhyming journeys with lullaby-style choruses. It includes stories narrated by special guests Goldie Hawn and Star Trek’s Sir Patrick Stewart.

Pzizz: This app use “dreamscapes” – a mix of music, voiceovers and sound effects, designed using clinical research. It can be used at night time and even power naps in the day.

Bedtime story podcasts to try

Boring books for bedtime: This weekly podcast has a narrator read real literary works that are mildly amusing yet simultaneously boring. Think US Internal Revenue Service Pub 583, Starting a Business.

Nothing Much Happens: Bedtime Stories for Grownups: This podcast delivers exactly what it promises: stories where not much happens. They read the story twice and go slower the second time round.

Still struggling to nod off? Try these ideas 

  • Reducing your caffeine intake
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Having a regular sleep time
  • Getting off devices two hours beforehand
  • Dimming your lights before bed to promote sleep
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia(CBTI)
  • Medication (not designed for long term use – speak to a health professional first)
  • Check out our A-Z of sleep aids

Written by Sarah Marinos. Updated April 2021. Additional reporting by Bianca Carmona.