I’ve never been blessed with the ability to fall asleep fast. I have to toss and turn and click around on my phone for an hour at least before I can even attempt to get some shut eye. It drives me up the wall sometimes when I have an early morning or a big meeting the next day and all I can do is lie there.
Bedtime stories as a kid always helped me shorten that empty time between when I got in bed and when I actually fell asleep. But, as I’ve moved into adulthood, the fairytales and fables have been replaced with social media and mindless scrolling. I know, I know, this so does not help my inability to sleep. It’s hard to turn it off sometimes and sit in silence instead.
Which got me wondering, are there bedtime stories for adults that could take the place of those from my childhood? There are apps, I know, that play white noise or block notification or limit your screen time. But I wanted that feeling of being a kid and reading a nice, gentle story before bed.
If you’re in the same boat I am, seeking that same feeling but a little more grown up, try one of these bedtime short stories for adults to see if you can get some sleep.
“Whitefoot” by Wendell Berry
“Whitefoot” focuses on the life of a mouse much in a similar vein of the many fables your parents read you as a kid. Whitefoot the mouse encounters some tribulations, obstacles from the large world around her, but (spoiler alert) she gets out unscathed, ready to keep at it. It’s long, gentle, and beautiful. You’ll have images of little Whitefoot’s journey with you as you fall asleep.
“Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
I’m sure many of you have read “Hills Like White Elephants” at some point in your school career. Masked in metaphor and implications, the surface level of the story is simply a conversation between a couple while waiting for their train. Sure, there’s subtext if you want to dig into it. But, if you turn off your thinking brain and read the straightforward prose, you’ll be drifting off in no time.
“Ghosts and Empties” by Lauren Groff
Some of you may share a fondness for walking when you can’t sleep, much like the main character in “Ghosts and Empties.” She walks off her anger, her pent up feelings, through her neighborhood and the ones surrounding it. She ponders her neighbors, the people she sees, thinks about her home and her boys and her husband. If walking soothes you, this story will too.
“With the Beatles” by Haruki Murakami
“With the Beatles” traces a man’s discovery of The Beatles in his young adulthood through his life alongside his dating history. It has the feeling of remembering the first time you found your favorite band and how that love develops through your life, major events coinciding with new releases. You know that feeling when you play a song and remember where you were in life when you were obsessed with it? This story feels like that: nostalgic and comforting.
“The Book of Martha” by Octavia E. Butler
“The Book of Martha” is, at it’s core, about how to make a perfect world. Or, I guess, how difficult that is. God grants Martha the power to help humanity. But that proves much harder than she thought. In a careful exploration of belief, perfection, and humanity, “The Book of Martha” is sure to catch your attention without keeping you up too late. Plus, it’ll give you something to think through when you close your eyes, pushing those pesky daily worries out the window.
“Cousin Tribulation’s Story” by Louisa May Alcott
This short story set on New Year’s Day follows a family who sacrifice their meal to help their neighbors in need. It’s heartwarming and sure to restore your faith in humanity before you go to sleep. Plus, it’s only 800 words! You won’t be up late into the night to find out what happens, and you’re sure to have a smile on your face when you do.
“Bruce and the Spider” by James Baldwin
This quick, fable-like story follows a king as he watches a spider. The spider keeps failing to connect her web, and the king, also having failed in battle, sympathizes with her. But she keeps trying, and so he decides to take her cues and try again himself. It’s sure to inspire you in its simplicity and put you to sleep with it too.
“Instructions” by Neil Gaiman
This is more of a poem, and intended for a younger audience perhaps, but the rhythm is sure to lull you no matter your age. As the title implies, “Instructions” is a list of, well, instructions on how to leave home, how to interact with the world, and how to come back again. You’ll meet an imp, an old woman, a ferryman, an eagle, and ghosts in time. You’ll pick strawberries and return favors and grow up in your time away. This is one of those bedtime stories for adults and children alike.
“Kew Gardens” by Virginia Woolf
This short stories centers around the Kew Gardens in London on a summer day. Various pairs of people walk past the flowers, each lost in their own thoughts. A young couple, a pair of men, and an elderly couple meander through the narrative. A snail makes an appearance as it climbs a flower. The story is gentle and slow, making it perfect to help you drift off tonight.
“A Telephone Call” by Dorothy Parker
“A Telephone Call” is a sweet, light-hearted story of a woman waiting by the phone. That’s it. Much the same way we wait for that text or Snapchat now, the main character sits beside the telephone waiting for a man to call. The internal monologue and lack of much else won’t raise the blood pressure or keep you too engaged. You’ll sleep, maybe thinking of your own telephone call.
I hope these bedtime stories for adults helped you get some shut eye. If you’re still looking for something low-key or soothing, try these comforting books for hard times or these comforting comics, if those are more your speed. You can also be read to sleep with these soothing audiobooks to fall asleep to.