From wearable sleep trackers and anti-snore pillows to digital dream monitors – there have never been more ways to help troubled sleepers drift off. But the latest trend among the millions of insomniac Britons might seem surprising in our digital age: bedtime stories for ‘stressed out’ adults
Of course, there is a high-tech element – as these sleep stories are listened to via a smartphone app, rather than read.
They feature classic fantastical narratives from mystical tales about a talking bear to an adapted version of the 1908 novel Wind In The Willows.
PR executive Natalie Trice from Devon, pictured with her sons Eddie and Lucas, is a big fan of sleep apps. She said: 'The calming voice relaxes me and shifts my focus away from everything going on in my head'
But they’re hardly thrilling because within minutes the storylines become dull, the idea being that the slow-paced, dulcet tones of the narrator will induce sleepiness in the listener.
One of these apps has seen a six-fold rise in story downloads in just two years – from four million to 25 million in the UK alone. Another, Sleep With Me, sees 1.3 million tales downloaded every month.
There’s been celebrity interest too. Joanna Lumley and Stephen Fry signed up as narrators, while pop star Harry Styles has backed another app.
One devotee is 45-year-old Natalie Trice, a busy PR executive from Devon.
‘The calming voice relaxes me and shifts my focus away from everything going on in my head,’ she says.
‘I’ve tried herbal pills, hot drinks, hot baths and going downstairs to watch Emmerdale repeats at 3am. But bedtime stories are the only thing that help me drift off.
‘I existed on about four hours’ sleep a night for six years,’ says Natalie, who is currently writing her second book about the PR industry.
‘My brain was constantly running, worrying about what I had to do the next day. Two years ago, I saw an advert for a phone app featuring bedtime stories and thought why not give it a go. It was a fairy tale about a bear getting lost in a forest. Within 20 minutes, I was asleep. I’m yet to get through a whole story – I drift off too quickly!’
Within minutes the storylines become dull, the idea being that the slow-paced, dulcet tones of the narrator will induce sleepiness in the listener
Not for children… but adults love them
Popular meditation app Calm was one of the first to offer bedtime stories for adults, in 2016.
Since then, more than 180 million sleep stories have been downloaded by Calm users – all of them adults.
Michael Acton Smith, co-founder of the app, says: ‘We noticed that people were listening to most of our meditation guides at 10 and 11 o’clock at night.
Joanna Lumley, pictured, has signed up to be a narrator for these adult bedtime stories
‘Clearly they were being used to fall asleep. So we thought, there’s an opportunity to create a modern bedtime story.’
Hundreds of apps have since replicated Calm’s formula, with some tweaking their narratives for optimum relaxation. Sleep With Me mixes fictional stories with intentionally dull ramblings about well-loved television programmes such as Doctor Who. Another, Pzizz, features so-called ‘dreamscapes’ which combine voiceovers, sound effects and music. It’s a stark contrast to the night-time habits of children, who are increasingly snubbing the bedtime story.
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