Bedtime Stories For Stressed-Out Adults: Can Reading Before Bed Help Me Sleep?

"My state of relaxation is a far cry from my usual bedtime routine."

My eyelids are drooping and my heartbeat has slowed down, as I struggle to reach the end of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Selfish Giant’ without drifting off to sleep.

The short story, about a giant who learns the benefits of being selfless, is part of the anthology ‘Bedtime Stories for Stressed-Out Adults’ – one of a growing number of books designed to calm and console a restless mind.

My state of relaxation is a far cry from my usual bedtime routine, which consists of cramming in one last episode on Netflix, then struggling to sleep – my mind races, hyper-aware of the passing time and the unlikelihood of waking up well-rested.

But tonight, after a hot bath and just 15 minutes with this book, I’m well on my way to the best night’s sleep I’ve had for months.

HuffPost UK

We’re a nation of poor sleepers, so it’s unsurprising adults are searching for something (anything!) to help us nod off. More than half of adults in the UK sleep for six hours or less each night, while just 17% enjoy the recommended eight hours, according to recent research.

But feeling tired isn’t necessarily enough to enable a good night’s rest, says sleep coach Maryanne Taylor, founder of The Sleep Works. “Having a transition time which allows our mind and body to relax and unwind is the key to better quantity and quality sleep,” she tells HuffPost UK. “We need this period of downtime where we can let go of the daily stresses and stimulation, including blue light, which is emitted from all screens.”

As kids, that downtime would, more often than not, include a bedtime story. But as adults, this ritual seems to have dropped off.

The anthology I’m reading is packed with familiar tales I’m sure I read as a child, but have long forgotten. It features works from the likes of E.Nesbit, Katherine Mansfield, Christina Rossetti, Lewis Carroll and Virginia Woolf – and the publishers say it’s designed to remind readers of “the simple joys of life”.

“Reading... is a perfect way to help our brains switch gear, relax and achieve a calmer mental state, helping us to sink into a deeper, more restful slumber."”

- Maryanne Taylor, founder of The Sleep Works

Taylor isn’t surprised it’s had a positive effect on me. “Just like with children, reading or listening to a story can be comforting and relaxing for adults too,” she says. “It’s a perfect way to help our brains switch gear, relax and achieve a calmer mental state, thereby helping us to sink into a deeper, more restful slumber.”

Mum-of-two Carly Joseph, from Birmingham, tells me her three-year-old can “only go down after a story”, but her own bedtime routine consists of crashing out in front of Netflix. Dad Daniel Rust, also from Birmingham, agrees stories before bed help his two children, aged seven and three, nod off. “They love it and always ask for it,” he tells me. “It definitely helps to wind down.”

After hearing these parenting success stories, recapturing the magic of reading as adults makes perfect sense to me. You could use any book for this purpose, but having a dedicated sleep anthology – complete with whimsical short stories, excerpts and poems – feels more manageable than a traditional novel. When you’re already stressed, the last thing you need is complex characters, plot twists and never-ending chapters.

And it’s not unlike the approach of apps like Calm, whose Sleep Stories section includes the likes of Stephen Fry and Jerome Flynn lulling you into relaxation. But with a book there’s no time spent fiddling with a screen, no ‘blue light’ stimulation (and no risk of hopping on to Instagram for that quick scroll that ends up anything but).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware bedtime stories can’t solve everything – my second night with the anthology may have been dreamy, but my first was interrupted by noisy neighbours, a subsequent stress headache and general rage. But, coupled with the right habits (and some ear plugs!), I think we may be on to something.

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