‘Sleep Stories’: Phoebe Smith is Telling Bedtime Stories for Adults On the Calm App

Putting millions of people to sleep became a dream job for this British writer.

Phoebe Smith — a U.K.-based award-winning travel writer and author — suffered from insomnia for years. That is, ironically, until she started camping out for work, which entailed roughing it on mountain tops, in caves and even inside a glacier in Salzburg, Austria near the North Pole, all for her 2014 book “Extreme Sleeps.” Getting out of her day-to-day rut of sitting at a desk and stressing about deadlines definitely helped her find peace of mind, especially when met with the thrill of exploring a new place, she said.

The founders of Calm, a free meditation and relaxation app, admired her descriptive writing and sleep expertise, and asked if she’d contribute to their “Sleep Stories” series. So now she uses her nature-inspired travel experiences — ranging from the base camp of Mount Everest to cruising around the Bay of Bengal — to write soothing and sensory tales for Calm to help insomniacs and stressed-out adults peacefully drift off.

“When I was first asked to write them, I didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted,” Smith, 35, whose official title at Calm is “Sleep Storyteller-in-Residence,” told Moneyish.

Telling bedtime stories is a change of pace from the thrilling travel stories she usually writes, however. When Smith is trying to lull people to fall asleep, she slows down her storytelling by focusing more on sensory details, she explained, using relaxing language.

“If you’re describing walking, people don’t just ‘walk’ — they can ‘saunter’ or ‘meander,’” Smith explained. “I’ll think of a word that says the thing, but in almost a longer way. You’re taking them [listeners] down a very descriptive road, so they almost think they’re there.” She also puts her most interesting bits of the story in the beginning, because she knows people typically don’t stay awake for the ending. Each story runs between 25 and 40 minutes long.

For example, “Blue Gold,” her most popular story on Calm, is read by the soft-spoken English comedian and actor Stephen Fry. It’s written in the second person so that listeners can picture themselves meandering lazily through the lavender fields of the sleepy villages of Provence in France. Smith begins by describing the aromas of lavender “instantly mellowing into a smooth and soothing scent” before going into a brief history of the aromatic plant known for its calming properties. The just under 25-minute story has been listened to 15 million times. And Smith adds that people have called her as “the JK Rowling of slow literature,” referring to the bestselling author of the “Harry Potter” franchise.

And most adults could benefit from a bedtime story that sends them off to la la land. Sleep is a $28 billion industry that people literally can’t live without. Many people struggle with getting the proper amount of shut eye; around 70 million Americans are insomniacs who cannot sleep, and 43 million suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), that is mostly undiagnosed, which means they aren’t getting restful sleep. This leads Americans to spend more than $40 billion on sleep drugs and other sleep aids.

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