Demand for Calm’s Sleep Stories has increased sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sleeping with Headphones Bedtime Story
Credit: PORNCHAI SODA/Getty Images

A mindfulness app is helping millions of people achieve restful sleep amid these unprecedented times. But it’s not meditation and deep breathing exercises that have stressed-out adults coming back night after night… it’s bedtime stories.

With 80 million downloads, Calm has cornered the market on bedtime stories for adults, reports The Economist. The app’s ever expanding selection of more than 200 Sleep Stories lulls grownup listeners to sleep with comforting words and gentle music.

With stories about everything from sports to fairytales, Calm’s Sleep Stories have been listened to more than 250 million times. And it’s not just anybody doing the reading. Celebrity narrators include British pop star Harry Styles, smooth-talking Texan Matthew McConaughey, Nick Offerman, Stephen Fry, LeBron James, Laura Dern, Kelly Rowland, and Joanna Lumley.

The stories, which are usually around 30 minutes long, aren’t particularly exciting, but that’s the point.  

“Storytelling in the bedtime context is tricky because as writers we’re trained to be engaging and to hook attention… and to use the tools of drama and conflict and so on,” Chris Advansun, a former screenwriter and current head of Sleep Stories, explained to The Economist. “We needed to set a lot of that aside.”

Not surprisingly, demand for these soothing tales has increased sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Advansun, the rate at which Calm adds new users has doubled since March.

The most popular Sleep Stories are about journeys, though they’re intentionally devoid of action, conflict or tension. Stories like this engage listeners’ imagination just enough to end “the cycle of rumination” on anxious thoughts that gets in the way of deep, natural sleep, but not enough to keep them awake.  There’s also something peaceful and nostalgic about being read a bedtime story.

The Calm app has a seven-day free trial, but in order to access features like celebrity-voices sleep stories, a premium membership ($70 per year) is required.

Sweet dreams!