Sleep is one of our most precious commodities, yet we’ve all spent nights tossing and turning in frustration while it proves elusive. In fact, we're facing a sleep epidemic: six in ten people in Britain report having trouble nodding off and almost half say they’re regularly kept awake due to day-to-day worries.
Reading at bedtime has long been an effective method for many, a way to shake off the pressures of the day while calming the mind. But there’s no denying it also requires effort, concentration and a little self-discipline – all easier said than done at the end of a long day. But what if it was made, well, easier?
This month our audiobooks team launched Penguin Sleep Tales, a new series of stories for both adults and children that have been developed with The Sleep Council. Combining the old fashioned powers of a soothing story at bedtime with new audio technology, they offer a new way to tackle sleeplessness.
‘We know that increasing numbers of people are using audiobooks as part of their bedtime routine, and that sleep and sleep health have been a growing trend for some time’, says Katie Bilboa, who worked on the production of the tales.
The tales themselves sound immediately different from ordinary audiobooks. They are part soundscape, part story and use lulling sounds such as rainfall, lapping waves and other natural elements to ease you into a slumber, gently.
These specific sound effects have been selected from a survey The Sleep Council commissioned in 2014, where respondents detailed noises that helped them de-stress and drift off. Designed to have a transporting effect, there are nods to peaceful natural landscapes and calming experiences such as sitting by a campfire and waiting out a thunderstorm. ‘Wakarango Mai’, is set in New Zealand’s hot springs at Lake Taupo, while in ‘Hammock on a Distant Shore’ is set in a tropical paradise. The story often describes your own actions, placing you, the listener, at the heart of the experience. It is almost meditative.
There are other significant differences in the recording of the tales compared to more standard audiobooks. Most obviously, the tempo and delivery of the stories are far more gentle and relaxed.
‘There’s no climax, no beginning, middle and end,’ Katie explains, ‘they are designed to engage your brain just enough to help you switch off from other thoughts without overstimulating you.’
Recording the voice-over was more challenging than traditional audiobooks, too.
‘We asked [the voice artists] not to get too animated or excited, and to read very slowly, getting even slower towards the end of each track.’
Other elements incorporated into Sleep Tales include ASMR, the YouTube phenonomen in which tapping, whispering and other sounds produce ‘mind tingles’ in some listeners, which many claim help them sleep. ‘The Magic Bookshop’ is a story that includes a common ASMR trigger – the slow turning of book pages.
Sleep adviser Lisa Artis, from The Sleep Council, says: ‘A consistent bedtime routine, and making sufficient time to relax, is key to achieving a good night’s sleep. Listening to an audiobook is one way to wind down before bed as it helps you to switch off.’
Got to be worth a try, hasn’t it?
Penguin Sleep Tales are available for download now.