There’s nothing more frustrating than insomnia. You’re exhausted beyond belief… but when it’s time to sleep, that’s the only thing you can’t seem to do. You lay there in bed, watching the time go by, getting closer and closer to when you need to wake up, and the situation feels more and more hopeless. Maybe you finally doze off for an hour or two at the end of the night, and then you wake up and start the whole cycle all over again.
And even if you don’t have clinical insomnia, there’s no shortage of things that make it difficult to fall asleep these days. Maybe you want to check your email one more time before you go to bed… and that turns into an hour or more scrolling through your phone, exposing your brain to blue light rays that will keep you from being able to fall asleep.
One of the only feels as desperate as the inability to fall asleep is watching a loved one suffer from the same. If your girlfriend is unable to fall asleep, I’m sure all you want is to be able to help her. But you’ve tried everything, and so far, nothing’s worked. It’s a truly helpless feeling. But there’s one thing you might not have tried: reading her a bedtime story.
It might seem like something for children, but bedtime stories can be a great way to relax your mind before falling asleep for people of all ages. Read on to get some storytelling tips, as well as some of the best bedtime stories, to read to your girlfriend.
Why Bedtime Stories Work
As anyone struggling to get good sleep will know, the harder you’re trying to sleep, the harder it is to get it. Trying to sleep activates your mind, which inherently prevents you from sleeping.
When children can’t sleep, one of the most common strategies is to read them a bedtime story. And we don’t do that for no reason! It’s very beneficial for tangible reasons that apply to adults as well.
Bedtime stories are relaxing, yes. But that’s only one facet. They’re also about redirecting one’s focus away from the process of falling asleep. For children, that’s typically about distracting them from their fear of or general resistance to sleep. With adults, it’s about the opposite: directing focus away from the fixation on the need to fall asleep.
Bedtime stories, when told well, are peaceful, relaxing, and, best of all, distracting. And they do all that without the use of screens, and disruptive blue light.
The Harms of Blue Light
One of the most common factors that can lead to difficulty sleeping is excessive screen use before bed. You might have a game on your phone that you really like, and maybe you’ll try playing it for a few minutes to unwind before bed. Before you know it, hours have gone by, and you’re still not tired!
That isn’t just because the game is addictive… it’s because of the blue light emitted from your phone. Blue light not only increases feelings of alertness, but it can also directly affect your circadian rhythm. That’s essentially your body’s natural, internal sleep schedule.
Per your circadian rhythm, your brain naturally begins releasing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin a few hours before your usual bedtime. That causes you to wind down and eventually fall asleep peacefully, right on schedule. But blue light waves suppress the release of melatonin. The more someone is on their phone (or any other screen) before trying to sleep, the harder time they’ll have of doing so.
So, your girlfriend might think that being on her phone could accomplish the same things—distraction, relaxation—as a bedtime story, but in fact, it does the opposite!
Bedtime stories can be very effective if you tell them well. But if they’re not, they can actually be counterproductive, just delaying the start of the same cyclical process of insomnia your girlfriend experiences every night.
So, you must tell the story well. The more interested your girlfriend is, the more effective it will be in lulling her to sleep. The unifying theme to most of these is that you should get into it! A bedtime story doesn’t just need to be for a soothing experience for the listener; it can be a fun experience for the teller. And the more fun you have, the better you’ll do.
Beyond that, the story must be interesting, but even more than that, it needs to be concise and relatively short. Here are some tips to keep your story interesting.
Do Character Voices
One way to keep the story interesting is to do different voices for different characters. That might feel a little over the top, but it adds variety throughout the story, and your girlfriend will surely be charmed by your commitment.
Do Facial Expressions
Here is another way to fully immerse yourself in the story (and in the storytelling experience). You can use facial expressions to convey emotions or to act out the appearances of characters as you do their parts. Again, it might be a little silly, but that’s all part of the charm. And once you get over your self-consciousness, it will help your girlfriend to get into the story and, as a result, to fall asleep.
Change Your Tone of Voice
The two above aren’t necessary to tell a good story; they’re just fun, cute extra touches. But at the bare minimum, you need to change your tone of voice. That not only helps convey dramatic points in the story; it also helps make sure your girlfriend doesn’t get bored and distracted.
It’s natural to pay attention when someone is changing their tone of voice. It’s just as natural to tune out when someone is speaking in monotone. We want our girlfriend to relax, but there’s a difference between relaxation and boredom. If she’s bored, she’s going to get fidgety and start looking for something else to do. So get into it, and make it fun!
Keep it Simple
Some stories are concise and straightforward by nature. Go ahead and read these just as they are. Others can be convoluted and complex, with vast webs of characters and plot twists. If you’re telling one of the latter types of stories, make sure you’re simplifying it, and not getting too swept lost in the weeds.
Overly complicated stories can be hard for the listener to follow. If they’re having a hard time following the story, they’re zoning out and getting bored, and we just covered why that’s a bad thing. So make sure you keep the plot tight and stay focused.
Best Bedtime Stories
The above tips are essential, but in the end, the most vital part of a bedtime story being useful is that it be a good story. There are countless stories you can look up all over the internet, and there are books dedicated solely to bedtime stories that you could purchase. Or, if you’re feeling creative, you can make one up on the fly.
You can also explore audiobooks, or bedtime story apps on nights when you are unable to read to your girlfriend yourself. These products have a wide array of stories, explicitly designed to calmly lull adults to sleep.
We’ll make it easy for you, though. Here’s a list of many of our favorite stories. Some are classic children’s stories, which your girlfriend may have heard when she was young. These are sure to send her drifting off to sleep awash in a wave of nostalgia. Others are action-packed, and others still are on the spooky side.
Jack and the Beanstalk
One of the most well-known bedtime stories of all time (and with good reason), Jack and the Beanstalk is a simple story of adventure and intrigue. While your girlfriend probably knows the story already, there’s ample opportunity for you to get really into it and give her a good show.
This story tells of a young man named Jack, who lives a difficult life with his widowed mother. One day, they are forced to sell their only valued possession, their cow. Jack gives the cow to a trickster in exchange for some magic beans. While his mother is initially furious that Jack seemingly got swindled, the trickster’s claims come true, and the beans grow into a massive beanstalk that stretches up to the land of giants, above the clouds.
Jack travels up the beanstalk and finds himself in the home of a fearsome giant who wants to catch Jack and eat him. But he evades capture and returns home with a great treasure. He makes several more trips up and robs the giant of ever more valuable items each time.
On the final trip, the giant sees Jack and tries to chase him back down to the ground, but Jack is able to cut down the beanstalk just in time, causing the giant to fall to his death. Jack and his mother spend the rest of their days happy and wealthy.
Your girlfriend may have been lulled to sleep by this story as a child. And if you tell it well, her mind will naturally fall into a restful state.
The Elves and the Shoemaker
A classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale, The Elves and the Shoemaker is quick and clean. And, as tends to be the case with the Brothers Grimm, it’s just strange enough to hold one’s interest.
It is the story of a poor, down-on-his-luck shoemaker, who has only enough leather left to make one final pair of shoes. He cuts the leather for the pair of shoes, and goes to bed, preparing to cobble them in the morning. But when he awakens, he sees they’re already made, with astonishing craftsmanship.
The shoes sell quickly and given their high quality the buyer provides the shoemaker with a hefty price. With these earnings, he can buy enough leather for two more pairs. He cuts them, goes to sleep, and once again, they’re perfectly made when he wakes up. Two becomes four, four becomes eight, and so on. No matter how many patterns he cuts at night, they’re fully assembled in the morning.
In time, the shoemaker becomes wealthy and decides to stay up through the night to see who is making his shoes. He sees that it is two naked, dancing elves, sewing with perfect expertise. Seeing that the elves have nothing for their own and given that he has benefited so much for their work, the shoemaker sets out to make them each a set of tiny clothes and shoes. The elves are thrilled when they find them, and they never return.
The Princess and the Pea
A Hans Christian Anderson classic, The Princess and the Pea is about a princess who proves her royal status by demonstrating that she is spoiled rotten. This is a fun, lighthearted story to tell your princess as she drifts off to sleep.
A prince was ready to get married, but he is very fussy. He is only willing to marry a true princess of the highest status. He hosts many potential partners, but none are up to his standard. He then embarks on a global search for a wife, but each princess he encounters has a flaw that makes him doubt their status.
One night, he’s sitting at home moping in his castle, when a terrible storm rolls in. A young woman comes to the door, asking for shelter. She claims to be a princess, but the prince and his mother are skeptical; they’ve been burned before. So the queen devises a plan. She stacks 20 mattresses and feather beds atop each other, with a single pea underneath.
An impostor would surely sleep soundly amid such luxury. But a true princess would be disturbed by the pea. The next morning, the guest complains that she suffered a sleepless night due to some hard object in her bed that she claims has left her bruised. The prince is overjoyed to have finally found a worthy princess, and the pair are married immediately.
Did you know that before it was a movie, Aladdin was an old folk story? It was included in the 1,001 Arabian Nights and had a few significant differences from the film. It’s a bit longer than some of the other stories but has some key stopping points, so if your girlfriend starts drifting off, you can make it last across multiple nights.
This version of the story is set in China, and as opposed to an orphaned street urchin, Aladdin is a lazy, disobedient boy. After Aladdin’s father passes away, an old sorcerer pretends to be Aladdin’s uncle, and eventually tricks Aladdin into going into a booby-trapped cave to retrieve a mystical lamp. The sorcerer betrays Aladdin, and he gets trapped inside the cave, but thanks to a small genie he releases from a magic ring, Aladdin is able to get home with the lamp.
The lamp contains a more powerful genie, and Aladdin uses it to become rich and powerful and marry a princess. But the sorcerer returns and is able to steal the lamp away. Aladdin still has the genie in the ring, though, and while it is not as powerful as the genie from the lamp, Aladdin, the genie, and the princess are able to defeat the sorcerer and regain the lamp.
Things don’t end there, however, as the sorcerer’s evil brother attempts to exact vengeance on Aladdin. But the genie of the lamp warns Aladdin of the danger, and he slays this sorcerer as well, before living happily ever after.
The Fall of the House of Usher
A very different story from the rest, The Fall of the House of Usher is straight-up old school horror. This Edgar Allen Poe story is hardly a bedtime story in the traditional sense—it’s incredibly creepy and would keep me up all night. But some people are calmed by scary stories. You’ll know if this is the type of story that would help your girlfriend fall asleep.
An unnamed narrator receives a letter from his friend, Roderick Usher, saying that he is ill, and requesting the narrator’s company. When the narrator arrives, he notices that there appears to be a crack in Usher’s house, from the very top to the bottom. Roderick and his sister Madeline, whose health is even worse than her brother’s, are the only remaining members of the family. Roderick is a brilliant artist, but his sanity appears to be in sharp decline.
After a few days, it seems that Madeline has passed away. Roderick and the narrator take her to the family’s mausoleum, but just before she is entombed, the narrator notes that she has rosy cheeks. When the friends return to the house, increasingly bizarre things begin to happen, and both begin to lose their grip on reality.
A storm rolls in, and Roderick becomes panicked, insisting that Madeline was alive when they buried her. Then suddenly, the bedroom door is blown open, and Madeline is standing behind it. She lunges at Roderick, and the narrator flees the house. As he escapes, the house itself cracks in two and sinks into the lake.
The Story of a Mother
The second Hans Christian Anderson story on our list, The Story of a Mother is very different from The Princess and the Pea. This is a heart wrenching but inspirational tale of a mother’s love for her dying child. This story is heavy, beautiful, and masterfully crafted, packing a powerful punch into a concise story.
A mother is watching over her sick child; after three sleepless nights, she closes her eyes for just a moment, and at that moment, Death comes and takes her child. The mother becomes frantic and runs into the street where she meets night; she asks night which way Death went, and night points her towards an enchanted forest.
The mother goes through many trials and tribulations, even losing her sight, before finding Death. He is at a greenhouse where he cares for each human life, in the form of a flower or tree. After some time, each one is pulled up and planted in the Garden of Paradise, where no one knows what happens. She recognizes the faint heartbeat of her child in a sickly plant. The mother pleads with Death to return her child to her.
Death restores her sight and takes her to a well, where he shows her two futures: one happy, one full of misery despair. Death tells the mother that her child will lead one of these lives if he is returned to her. She can take that chance, or her child can be taken now to the Garden of Paradise. The mother is heartbroken, but she realizes her child will be better off in the garden, even if it is unknown to her.
These are just a few of our favorite bedtime stories, but there are countless others to be found. It’s up to the two of you to decide what type of story you like best. But no matter what you choose, bedtime stories can be a surprisingly effective measure to help people of any age fall asleep.
Bedtime stories work by taking your girlfriend’s mind away from its fixation on the need to fall asleep. When you stress about having to fall asleep, your brain is unable to reach a restful state. The effects are compounded if you then spend time on your phone, which emits blue light rays that block sleep-inducing melatonin. But if your girlfriend focuses on a story instead of sleeping, her mind reaches a restful state naturally.
For the story to work, though, you must tell it well. Don’t just drone on in a monotone voice—your girlfriend will be reaching for her phone in no time, and she’ll be stuck back in that same sleepless cycle. But if you get into it, and tell the story well, it just may be just what she needs to finally fall asleep.