Sleep Stories and Podcasts for Adults: The Secret to Better Sleep

Photo: Getty Images/ FreshSplash
Picture this: it’s Thursday night, you’ve had a long week at work already, and an 8 a.m. morning meeting stands between you and the majorly fun weekend plans you’ve had on your GCal for months. The only problem: it’s 3 a.m., you can’t sleep, and your racing mind is busy watching the amount of potential sleep you could get dwindling by the minute. While you could just stay there and try to get your body to sleep with pure will and determination, doing so hasn’t really helped in the last…five hours you’ve been trying in earnest. Here’s where sleep stories for adults come in.

Experts In This Article

Remember how as a kid, your parents might’ve read you bedtime books and stories that seemed to put you to sleep in seconds? Sleep stories for adults are pretty much the same dealio. Instead of physical books that your parents read aloud to you though, nowadays, we as adults are much more modern and can utilize things like podcasts and Youtube videos to help us fall asleep.

“We can’t be asleep if we are actively thinking in this manner, but when you turn on a story to listen to, it redirects your mind generally to something more slow-paced, relaxing, soothing, and less stimulating.”— Hong Yin, MD, psychiatrist

When we can't sleep, our minds are like a computer browsing the web, says psychiatrist Hong Yin, MD, clinical director of New Frontiers Psychiatric & TMS. “It’s just too easy to keep clicking another link, another video, a pop-up,” Dr. Yin says. You can keep clicking and browsing through the thoughts of your day and your mind just can’t shut off, Dr. Yin adds. “We can’t be asleep if we are actively thinking in this manner, but when you turn on a story to listen to, it redirects your mind generally to something more slow-paced, relaxing, soothing, and less stimulating,” she explains.

With this in mind, we asked experts for their best recommendations and advice for tips to find the best sleep stories for adults. Read on for more.

Do sleep stories work for adults?

A sleep story for adults could definitely help you fall asleep faster, especially if you’re having difficulty falling asleep due to racing thoughts. “A common challenge to falling asleep is an overactive mind,” says ASMR researcher Craig Richard, PhD, a professor of physiology at Shenandoah University School of Pharmacy. “Your thoughts may be racing from the day’s stress or over excited about an upcoming opportunity. Either way, falling asleep with your mind focused on these overactive thoughts is hard.” Dr. Richard explains.

“Listening to a sleep story will distract your overactive thoughts and allow your mind to slow down and settle into sleep,” Dr. Richard says. Not to mention, “the audio will also help to mask any background noises that may keep you from falling asleep, such as the sounds of the wind, house creaks, or dogs barking outside,” he adds. And when you're begging for sleep, you just know how every little distracting household noise can throw you even further off.

What makes a good bedtime story for adults?

When you think of what makes a good book, you likely think of a plot that’s impossible to put down; one that’s unlikely to soothe you to sleep. Sleep stories, on the other hand, are designed to relax and soothe the listener to promote sleep.

As Dr. Yin says, “any story that you find helps you turn off your mind,” is what makes a “good” bedtime story. Of course, Dr. Yin adds, this is unique for each and every person, so look for an overarching theme that you find interesting. If you like history, look for a sleepy history podcast or video. If you like mythology, go for that. If you just want ASMR-type noises that help you drift off to sleep, try those. We’ve included a list of a few good places to start below.

However, Dr. Yin also notes that looking for some underlying themes in each story might also help, such as “meditation techniques [that] include focusing on the senses as well as breathing.” Stories that allow you to “lay back and imagine sights, sounds, touch, tastes, and smells [are] a great way to immerse your mind into a different place, away from the busy day-to-day you’ve already put in,” Dr. Yin also adds.

What are the best sleep stories and bedtime podcasts for adults?

If you’re looking for sleep stories and bedtime podcasts for adults, we’ve got you. Here are a few expert-recommended pods and videos to try.

1. Calm History

Calm History is Dr. Richard’s own podcast which he created with the specific purpose of helping listeners fall asleep quicker. Episodes include stories and trivia from history ranging from stories about The Titanic, the pyramids of Egypt, Easter Island, Ancient Greece, to historical figures like Jesse Owens, Joan of Arc, Henry Ford, and Florence Nightingale.

Personally, I’ve found that if I’m nervous about how to sleep before a big day (that 8 a.m. meeting from the intro was…not fiction, unfortunately), distracting myself with something educational and entertaining (like a historical story) helps me focus more on that and less on the anxiety of tomorrow.

2. Sleep With Me

This popular podcast is another recommendation by Dr. Richard, which he says is very popular and features “terrific sleep stories that are engaging and humorous.” It boasts 4.5 stars over 15,5000 ratings, so you know it’s good. While humor might not be on the shortlist of things you think sleep podcasts need, it’s always a plus to have a chuckle or two before you drift off to Dreamland. Not to mention, when you consider how boredom affects sleep, having something funny and engaging could be the exact thing you need to relax enough to sleep.

3. Deep Sleep Sounds

Dr. Richard also recommends this podcast which he says features a “soothing combo of relaxing music and nature sounds,” which is especially great for those who might not like as much of an emphasis on narrative in their adult bedtime stories. Another bonus: this one is specifically categorized under the “Kids and Family” tag on Apple Podcasts, so it’s probably safe to put on the family speaker if you find your whole household needs help falling asleep.

4. Get Sleepy: Sleep Meditation and Stories

Get Sleepy relies on mindfulness elements, like body and breath awareness to prepare listeners for childlike stories about treehouses and spaceships. The writers and meditation specialists who create each story are guided by sleep experts, so you can count on this one to do the trick. Breathing exercises for sleep in conjunction with these meditations can be super helpful for getting some restful zzzz’s too.

5. Boring Books for Bedtime

Sometimes experiencing a little late-night boredom can work to your benefit. Boring Books for Bedtime uses real literary works to, per its name, bore you to sleep. Expect to hear big ideas from writers like Henry David Thoreau, and to travel through place and time to locales like 19th century Scotland.

6. Calm Sleep Stories

For the uninitiated to the Calm app, the platform offers a whole section of bedtime-friendly podcasts, making it one of the best sleep apps. Calm’s sleep stories add soothing sound and music to the spoken prose, which adds up to a solid dose of storytelling and sleep-inducing tones.

7. Sleep Whispers

When you need to escape from the noise of daily life (whether that includes the to-do list in your head, the literal sound of noisy neighbors, or both), let this be your guide. In Sleep Whispers, the host reads both traditional bedtime stories and Wikipedia articles with a hushed, quiet voice you can’t help but ignore (in the best way.)

8. Miette’s Bedtime Story Podcast

Miette’s Bedtime Story Podcast is perfect for those who want to be read actual works of literature. Browse through 100 episodes based on themes, characters, and places that’ll guide you into stress-free sleep.

9. Spotify’s Sleep Podcasts & Shows

Spotify has it all: music, genres and moods, podcasts and shows—and on every topic including sleep. You can enter pretty much any search term you’re looking for and there’s a good chance there’s a podcast you can fall asleep to when it comes to Spotify’s library. Another bonus is that you’re able to quickly, at a glance see the length of Spotify podcasts and stories. This way, if you’re looking for five minute bedtime stories or eight-hour sleep meditations, you can quickly drill down and get to sleep that much faster.

10. Free Youtube Sleep Stories for Adults

Quick caveat: Youtube sleep stories might not be the best fit for everyone looking for help falling asleep. Not only are the ad breaks sometimes…jarring, but the light from a video isn’t the most relaxing, as Dr. Richard notes. “The light from a video can inhibit melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep,” he explains, adding that “watching a video may also force you to be sitting up or to be holding a mobile device,” which is a pain in and of itself.

That said, you really can’t argue with free. If you’re specifically looking for a Youtube video to help fall asleep to, Dr. Yin suggests a video like this one that might work well. This video features a story from feudal Japan and incorporates the sound of rainfall on trees. It’s about an hour and a half long, which is the perfect amount of time to relax and allow yourself to drift off to dreamland.

If you’re really going to go for it though, heed Dr. Richard’s advice and turn your blue light off your device (if you can) and put your phone, iPad, or computer away from your bed (someplace you can hear it but where you don’t have to hold it.) There are tons of adult bedtime stories for sleep on Youtube — so many that it might even be hard to pick one — but keep an open mind and try them out. You’ll learn what you do and don’t like in your sleepy content soon enough.

What is the most popular sleep story on Calm?

According to Well+Good contributor Tehrene Firman, if you’ve already got the Calm app and are looking for a good place to start, Matthew McConaughey’s Wonder sleep story on Calm has been her go-to for years. This 35-minute story, which focuses on “a grandfather explaining the magic of the universe and of life itself to his granddaughter,” Firman says McConaughey’s “ultra soothing voice” helps her drift off into a deep slumber and find her nightly zen. Alright, alright, alright indeed.


The Wellness Intel You Need—Without the BS You Don't
Sign up today to have the latest (and greatest) well-being news and expert-approved tips delivered straight to your inbox.

Loading More Posts...