Does the secret to a good night’s sleep lie in the telling of a good yarn?
Many of us find it difficult to switch off at the end of the day, even when we’re feeling tired. Racing thoughts can be difficult to silence, especially in times of nationwide unrest and uncertainty.
According to a survey of 3,000 UK adults commissioned by The Sleep Council, The Sleep Charity and Sleepstation five weeks into lockdown, as many as three quarters of Brits felt that the global pandemic had negatively impacted their sleep in some way.
And during this national struggle for sleep, it seems that many of us are turning to digital platforms as a way to find relief. Typically, using our smartphones at bedtime is considered a big no-no. After all, there is a substantial body of research dedicated to the harmful effects of backlit screens on sleep quality. However, the beauty of our most treasured handheld device is that the fun doesn’t need to stop when the screen goes dark.
Simply, plug in a pair of headphones and set the audio running and a whole world of podcasts, sleep sounds and bedtime stories open up to us all.
Why are so many people opting to listen to their devices at bedtime?
While the general advice is to seek ‘peace and quiet’ when trying to sleep, this isn’t necessarily the best option for those of us feeling stressed and wired. Lying in the dark and the quiet can allow worries to race around our heads.
Because of this, people are harking back to their childhood days and treating themselves to a bedtime story in order to encourage relaxation and sleep. Podcasts and playlists are helping growing numbers of people rest easy.
So how exactly does this help? It’s all about distraction. Tranquillity-inducing sounds and stories can be used to quiet a fretful mind and transport you to another place and time, giving your worries and stresses less breathing space.
Of course, it’s important to find the right kinds of stories and sounds. Anything too engaging or stimulating will hinder rather than help your efforts to sleep. Dr Neil Stanley of The Sleep Council says sleep sounds are “all about context”, with “soothing voices” being encouraged:
“If you can basically ignore it, then it’s OK.”
Audio recordings are a smart alternative for people who like to fall asleep with the television on, as there is no blue light to inhibit the release of useful sleep hormones like melatonin.
What kind of things are we listening to?
Bedtime stories are a particularly popular option for people struggling to silence their thoughts in bed, as they offer something else to focus on. Podcasts like Sleepy feature classic stories – everything from fairy tales to Victorian novels – read in the soothing drawl of New York City radio producer Otis Gray. The slow and understated reading style makes this one of the most popular options for digital bedtime tales.
However, it isn’t just stories people are seeking at bedtime. ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, has become hugely popular in recent years. It involves listening to audio recordings of sounds and voices designed to induce a tingling effect that is thought to be comforting. Like bedtime stories, more and more ASMR podcasts are gaining popularity, including the likes of Sleep and Relax ASMR and Sleep Whispers. Meanwhile, podcasts like Atmosphonic feature episodes with recordings of sounds thought to be soothing, such as thunderstorms, waves and birdsong.
Stress and sleep: the importance of relaxation at bedtime
Finding a bedtime routine that works for you is vital, as stress and poor quality sleep are inextricably linked. High levels of stress increase your likelihood of suffering from common sleep conditions like insomnia. Stress often means it takes longer for you to fall asleep, and the sleep that you do experience is more likely to be fitful, light and low quality.
As well as bedtime stories, introducing steps such as meditation or reading into your bedtime routine can promote relaxation. And removing elements from your routine can help, too. If you find yourself feeling restless and wide awake through the night, consider whether you need to fix issues such as light levels in the bedroom, screen time before bed or perhaps even avoiding caffeine late in the day.