A Little Night Shakespeare

“O sleep, O gentle sleep”

I suffer from periods of insomnia. I don’t toss and turn and fret over the future or ruminate on the past. I simply can’t sleep, at least not during normal (i.e., when everyone else is sleeping) bedtime hours. My circadian clock becomes disordered, usually triggered by some change—like working from home—that screws up my usual environmental cues. The trouble is the rest of the world won’t change its schedule to accommodate me. So, I need to sleep at night to function in the daytime world.

“Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frightened thee”

One thing that helps me sleep nights when I have trouble falling asleep spontaneously is listening to bedtime stories. There’s something special about being told a story, as opposed to reading or watching one. Oral storytelling is a 30,000-year-old tradition that serves many purposes—passing on family history and cultural lore, teaching survival skills and cautionary tales, entertainment, community building. Bedtime stories are a special subset within the overall oral tradition. The teller may be reading aloud instead of reciting from memory or improvising but the listener is experiencing the story aurally.

“That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down”

Do you remember being a little kid and begging your caregiver to read you a bedtime story? My go-to was Alice in Wonderland. I demanded it so often—and knew it so well that I could tell if any parts were left out—that Dad grew to hate it. Research has identified tangible benefits of bedtime stories. (Most of the research has focused on children. This needs to change. I volunteer to be a participant in a study on the benefits of bedtime stories for adults.) Dr. Puja Uppal, quoted in mic.com, said, “Bedtime stories may help us…decrease our anxiety, decrease our heart rate, and drop our blood pressure—all of which help us sleep.”

“And steep my senses in forgetfulness?”

So, you’re ready to curl up with a blanket and hear a good story to lull you to sleep. But you’re missing a key ingredient—someone to do the telling. I live with a cat who doesn’t speak or read human so she’s out as a potential narrator. Luckily, we live in the “there’s an app for that” era. That’s right, some tech entrepreneurs figured out that our phones and other smart devices could do the narrating. Bonus: Alexa isn’t likely to build up resentment toward the story you play on repeat. You can get your grown-up bedtime story from an app or a podcast. Audible, Calm, Nothing Much Happens, Phoebe Reads a Mystery, and Scare You to Sleep (if you like your bedtime stories to be nightmare-inducing) are a few to consider.

What’s your favorite bedtime story? Tell us here, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

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