Experts from National Geographic have shared their opinion on why Travel Tales are often used to calm the nerves and help to put us to sleep
“Deep within the eastern slopes of the snow-capped Andes mountains lies a mystical region largely untouched by mankind….”
“Tonight, we’ll explore a place that seems to exist outside of time, where tropical jungles and grassy highlands exist in perfect harmony.”
The snippets above are from a 45-minute story on the subscription app Calm.
Many of the more than 2,500 meditation apps on the market offer nighttime relaxation help. Dozens of podcasts, such as Sleep Cove, and online video channels, including Soothing Pod’s YouTube channel, exist simply to lull adults into a deep slumber.
travel stories are the one genre of these bedtime stories that stands apart for adults. Nearly a third of Calm’s 300 bedtime stories (which have been listened to more than 450 million times) are about travel, particularly adventure travel. Some 45 per cent of the bedtime stories on the app Breethe (which has been downloaded more than 10 million times) are travel-related. Earlier this year, half of the top 10 bedtime stories were travel-themed.
On the train to slumberland
Travel bedtime stories are typically an audio retelling of a trip, often in the present tense, as if we are placed there alongside the narrator. It may be a day in the therapeutic waters of Bath. Or it could be a visit to the remote and mountainous Kingdom of Bhutan. Or an image-filled imaginary journey to “see” the Northern Lights in Norway.
“You need movement in a bedtime story—if things are static, it’s too dull and the listener will get fidgety,” says Martha Bayless, a professor and the director of the University of Oregon’s Folklore and Public Culture Program, specialising in oral traditions from ancient to modern times. “But the movement has to be non-threatening and soothing. And for the modern day, what better than the movement of a train?”
Trains engage the senses in a gentle way, with a constant forward momentum. With train travel, “the decisions are out of your hands,” Bayless says. “The train is the perfect vehicle for sleep. You can just take it where it goes, enjoy the gentle swaying, the rhythmic sound, the sense that you’re cosied up in an old-fashioned, reassuring mode of travel.”
How it works
“Bedtime stories help some people get more restful sleep”, according to Rachel Salas, a neurologist and the assistant medical director at Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep and Wellness. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, restful sleep helps the body better regulate cognitive performance, digestion and many other functions.
More restful sleep helps the body better regulate everything from digestion to cognitive performance, According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
“Mirror neurones,” says Salas could be the reason why travel bedtime stories soothe our brain. “Originally discovered in the macaque monkey, these neurones fire both when a subject performs a particular movement, as well as when the movement is only observed.”
Salas says “these brain cells might conflate our own experiences with someone else’s. For example, a tale of train travel could trigger a sense of nostalgia for our own past journeys, even if the specific bedtime story is about something we have not experienced. The comforting sense of something familiar and romanticised can help with relaxation and sleep”. Additionally, Salas notes, that the white noise that lulls people to sleep is the sound of a train chugging along the tracks.
“From a neurological standpoint, it’s not just the idea of travelling and seeing new places, it’s about connecting. We’re naturally social beings. We’ve been through time away from family and friends, away from freedom. Even if you weren’t someone who travelled that much, you were still able to go to a restaurant or try something new,” says Salas.
Or it might simply be that removing the light and noise from the external world allows for an internal world, our imagination, to take over. Nighttime storytelling is ancient—“as old as literature gets,” says Bayless. “In a way, when we’re listening to sleep stories, we’re harkening back to the very dawn of human culture.”