February 11, 2019

Writers are putting people to sleep with bedtime stories


“Tell me a bedtime story”—a phrase many children have uttered before going to sleep for the night. But bedtime stories aren’t only for children.

Over at The Guardian, Phoebe Smith writes about the rise of sleep and meditation apps, where bedtime stories are read out loud in order to help listeners fall asleep. Smith, who is a “sleep storyteller-in-residence” for Calm, has contributed 16 stories, written specifically for people to fall asleep to. Smith describes:

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.

Calm is arguably the most popular of these apps. According to the numbers Smith quotes in her piece, the stories on Calm have been listened to 68 million times since December 2016’s launch, with 5 million people listening every month.

In a world where Donald Trump is our president and it often feels like we are hurtling towards the end of civilization, it can be hard to shut off your brain at night. How many of us have laid in bed trying to fall asleep, only to find ourselves running through our never-ending “to-do” lists or stressing about a personal problem? Dr. Steve Orma, a clinical psychologist in San Francisco who specializes in treating people with insomnia, told Smith:

There’s a paradox to sleep, in that it comes when you’re not trying. When you try to sleep, your mind monitors your efforts, which then keeps you awake.

Smith’s stories and others like it are meant to distract our brains from the effort of falling asleep, leading listeners directly into their dreams.

Other than the sleep benefits of Calm, the app is giving writers a new outlet to showcase their work, challenging them to create a very specific type of story intended for a very specific purpose.  “Your story put me right to sleep” used to be a criticism—now, it’s a compliment.



Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.