Bedtime stories aren’t just for kids —here’s why I listen to them when I can’t sleep

Smiling woman wearing headphones falls asleep while listening to bedtime stories for adults
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A soothing bedtime story is a time-honoured way of helping little ones drift off, but that doesn't mean night-time tales aren't for adults. In fact, there are plenty of bedtime stories for adults out there, and I listen to every one of them on my smartphone.

You probably already know the basics of a good wind-down routine, from ditching caffeine early to choosing the best mattress for your sleep style, but listening to a calming narrative is one of the easiest thing things you can do to help you get settled.

For Sleep Awareness Week 2024, I've rounded up some of the best bedtime stories to listen to when you need help nodding off. I'll also discuss how bedtime stories help us sleep better and where you can find them.

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How do bedtime stories help us sleep better? 

The best bedtime stories for adults usually feature a calming or monotonous voice telling a relaxing, light-hearted, or uneventful story with pleasant or tedious themes. The narrator's voice usually has a steady rhythm to lull the listener into sleepiness, while other narrators ramble on to bore the listener to sleep. 

Bedtime stories also set the scene for sleep, and eliminate anything that may distract us from winding down for the night. For instance, a 2023 study investigating the effects that audiobooks have on sleep quality found that listening to a story before bed significantly improves sleep quality by decreasing the effects of environmental stressors and reducing sleep disruptions.

Sleeping woman with headphones listening to sleep stories

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Short bedtime stories for adults to fall asleep to

Bedtime stories for adults tend to last around 20 to 40 minutes, which is roughly the average amount of time people take to fall asleep. However, some are much shorter and others can last for hours. 

If you enjoy listening to novels and audiobooks, there are many sleep stories where the narrator reads classic literature and new novels. These stories are split into digestible chapters, so each episode lasts around 60 minutes. 

Find a story with a length that suits you. If you'd like a bedtime story to help you relax before bed, pick a shorter one, but if you're looking for a story to fall asleep to, pick a longer one. 

My top 5 bedtime stories for falling asleep faster and easier

1. "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" at The Sleepy Bookshelf

While a lot of adult bedtime stories feature original vignettes, there are a lot of bedtime podcasts that feature the narration of famous literature. One such podcast is The Sleepy Bookshelf, which features voice over actress Elizabeth Grace reading classic works of fiction and non-fiction, from Peter Pan to Pride and Prejudice. 

This podcast, which you can find on Spotify is great if you want a podcast that comforts you with familiar tales from your childhood, which is why I recommend Elizabeth's whimsical reading of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. 

However, the podcast offers a whole library of books to choose from, so it's also a great opportunity to try some classic pieces of English literature that you've never been able to get round to reading.

Listen to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at The Sleepy Bookshelf on Spotify

A woman wearing wireless earbuds falls asleep with listening to bedtime stories

(Image credit: Getty Images)

2. "Moonlight Melody" at Calm 

Meditation app Calm is crammed to the brim with sleepy stories, narrated by both familiar and unfamiliar voices. These stories are designed to create a tranquil sound environment and help you to relax. 

Most sleep episodes not only feature a relaxing voice but also gentle music. A prime example of this is the story "Moonlight Melody". Narrated by English actress Pearl Mackie, the charming tale contains tinkling piano notes throughout. The story about the quest to find an enchanted piano is perfect for anyone who finds classical music relaxing.

Listen to Moonlight Melody on the Calm app

3. "The Bridge in the Woods" at Nothing Much Happens

Kathryn Nicolai writes and reads all the stories on Nothing Much Happens, a podcast whose tagline is: "You feel good and then you fall asleep". Nicolai has slow and steady voice, which reflects the sleep-inducing tone of each story.

With the advent of spring, I recommend listening to "The Bridge in the Woods", which is about a mood-boosting sunny day following a slump of cold weather. 

Listen to the Bridge in the Woods at Nothing Much Happens on YouTube

4. "Putt Putt Prodigy" at Sleep with Me

So far, most of the stories on this list have featured a slow, velvety voice serenading you with a peaceful tale. The Sleep with Me podcast is a little different, though. Instead of featuring meditative, whimsical tales about nature and friendship, this podcast features a rambling voice droning on about tedious subjects designed to bore you to sleep. It's perfect for anyone who falls asleep while listening to talk radio or watching TV shows or documentaries.

I listen to the "Putt Putt Prodigy", an episode about a mini-golf course, as the subject matter doesn't interest me in the slightest. 

Listen to Putt Putt Prodigy at Sleep With Me Podcast

5. "The Flower Farmer" at Get Sleepy

If you find stories about nature soothing, "The Flower Farmer" is for you. The narration follows Kathy as she spends her day pottering in her greenhouse. Expect many descriptions of gardening and farming. The narrator's steady, careful voice pronounces each word, alliteration, simile, and gardening term clearly and slowly, creating vivid but sleep-inducing imagery. 

Listen to The Flower Farmer at Get Sleepy on Spotify

Where to find the best bedtime stories for adults 

Most sleep stories are free, and can be found on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube. There's also a variety of apps you can download which feature extensive libraries of bedtime stories, such as Calm and Headspace. 

Frances Daniels
Sleep Staff Writer

Frances Daniels is a Sleep Staff Writer at Tom's Guide and her role includes covering all mattress and sleep news, in addition to mattress reviews and buyer's guides, plus sleep accessories such as pillows and mattress toppers. Frances is a PPA-accredited journalist and is hugely interested in the relationship between good sleep and overall health. When not writing about mattresses and sleep for Tom's Guide, Frances enjoys writing about women's issues, health and wellbeing, the environment, and her native Wales.