First there were colouring books for adults, which started as a new way to beat stress, then became a publishing sensation.
Now, bedtime stories for grownup, alias Sleep Stories, are on their way to matching their success and becoming the Next Big Thing in the booming world of mindfulness and meditation.
The 23 ‘Sleep Stories’ launched early last month as a new kind of natural sleep aid by the meditation app Calm have been downloaded and listened to a total of two million times in their first month – far more than their creators expected.
“They seem to be meeting a need and striking a nerve”, says Alex Tew, co-founder of Calm. “We’re getting a lot more listeners every day. Their popularity has taken off even more since the New Year, with an amazing first week of January.”
“Loads of people are listening to one every night”, adds Tew. “We’re going to have to record more.”
‘Sleep Stories’ are the latest new feature of Calm (www.calm.com), the popular meditation app, downloaded to date by six million users.
They are sleep-inducing tales that mix soothing words, music and sound-effects to help adult listeners wind down and drift off to dreamland.
The 23 Sleep Stories are narrated by everyone from mindfulness experts to psychologists and actors. (The latter include Anna Acton, the popular British TV actress, and sister of Calm’s co-founder, Michael Acton Smith).
To celebrate their launch, Calm is making all 23 Sleep Stories free to all for much of this month, before limiting them only to paying subscribers to Calm.
Most range in length from 20 to 30 minutes and in kind from non-fiction “nature essays” describing natural wonders to an extract from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They include both original stories, devised by mindfulness experts, and slow-tempo retellings for adults of such classic children’s tales as The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Anderson.
Ben Stein, who played the boring Economics teacher in the cult 80s movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off reads an excerpt from the classic 18th century economics text, ‘The Wealth of Nations’ by the Scottish economist Adam Smith. “I find it fascinating”, he says, “but if you start feeling a little sleepy then relax and let my soothing voice ease you into a deep sleep.”
Stein’s reading of ‘The Wealth of Nations’ is so far proving the most popular non-fiction Sleep Story, while fictional stories called The Waterfall, Jupiter and his Mighty Company, and The Ocean’s Lullaby top the overall popularity table, in that order.
“Each time I’ve listened to one of the Sleep Stories”, says Victoria-Louise Ling, a writer, long-time insomniac and satisfied user, “I’ve woken up later to find I had fallen asleep while listening. The only downside has been that I’ve never got to hear the end of the story!”
The final one of Calm’s 23 Sleep Stories is actually a talk on sleep science and advice by Dr Steve Orma, a clinical psychologist and specialist in treating sleep problems.
“There’s a paradox to sleep, in that it comes when you’re not trying”, he says. “When you try to sleep, your mind monitors your efforts, which then keeps you awake. Instead, have the intention of relaxing and letting go.
““The first step in getting good night’s sleep is being in the right mindset. If you’re tired, relaxed and ready for sleep you will automatically fall asleep after 10 to 20 minutes. This is why doing something calming before bed will help prepare you for sleep. This can be meditation, reading (nothing too exciting) or now listening to a ‘Sleep Story’, designed to help you let go and ease into a peaceful slumber.”
Difficulty sleeping is a modern epidemic, says Michael Acton Smith, co-founder of Calm. “We also know that wanting to sleep better is one of the main reasons people use Calm.” It therefore made sense for Calm to develop a new feature designed to help users do so.
“To prepare for sleep we need to transition from the hustle and bustle of the day to the calm of the evening”, says Acton Smith.
“We need to create a transition time, so that rather than stimulating our minds with TV or emails or Facebook, we instead allow them to unwind. We seldom do this. It’s no wonder that so many of us struggle to calm our racing minds and nod off naturally.” Sleep Stories are designed to aid this transition.
“Remember when you were young how much you enjoyed listening to a bedtime story”, says Alex Tew of Calm. “It was comforting, relaxing and soothing.” Well, think of sleep stories as the adult equivalent.
“When you’re a child, you have much less on your mind and sleep comes easily. Sleep Stories are meant to take you back to a simpler mental state and let your brain relax and prepare for a deep rest, just as it did when you were young. There’s no reason we can’t all have a good night’s sleep… without medication.”