Why do travelogues help us fall asleep?

Listeners can take part in cruises on the Nile, sail in Sri Lanka, make difficult pilgrimages like that of Santiago de Compostela, fly over the Cappadocia region in Turkey in a hot air balloon or take Route 66. by car. Descriptions are omnipresent in these stories, which are punctuated here and there by the sound of waves, railways and still soft music.

The stories that take place on board a train are, it seems, particularly intriguing at bedtime. Headspace, Calm and Breethe are constantly adding content related to this means of transport. Listeners can thus travel aboard the Orient Express or the Trans-Siberian. For instance, Headspace features a much-loved story called “Slow Train,” which alters the ambient noises aboard the train in the background and regularly changes the spoken descriptions. It consistently features in the top 5 most popular bedtime stories on the app.

“Movement is essential in a story to fall asleep. If the narrative is too static, it becomes boring and the listener will fidget,” says Martha Bayless, a professor at the University of Oregon in the United States and director of the Public Culture and Folklore Program at the institution, which focuses on oral traditions from Antiquity to the present day. “But this movement must be soothing and reassuring, which the train offers”.

(Read: Sweet songs: what the lullabies we sing say about us.)

Thanks to its constant forward momentum, the train gently appeals to the senses. With train travel, “you are no longer in control of your decisions,” emphasizes the professor. It is the ideal vehicle for sleeping. You take it on the way and let yourself be lulled by its light rocking and rhythmic noise, having the feeling of being comfortably installed on board a reassuring and somewhat old-fashioned mode of transport”.

It’s not the same story for in-flight audio stories, she continues. “Imagine trying to fall asleep in a narrow seat and your neighbor resting his head on your shoulder! “. So beware of stories that are too faithful to reality: they may well not have the expected effects on your sleep.


According to Rachel Salas, neurologist and deputy medical director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep and Wellness, reading a bedtime story helps some people get more restful sleep. This allows the body to better regulate digestion or even cognitive performance, according to theAmerican Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Great distractions, bedtime stories keep us from worrying, reviewing to-do lists, or stressing out. Often positive and joyful (but not overly thrilling), they soothe a troubled mind.

The calming power of travel stories to fall asleep could be explained by the ” mirror neurons “, explains Rachel Salas. Initially discovered in macaques, these activate both when you perform a particular movement and when you observe that movement.

According to the neurologist, these brain cells would be able to associate our own experiences with those of another person. The story of a train journey can thus make us nostalgic by immersing ourselves in our past journeys, even if it describes a situation that we have not been confronted with. The comfort provided by something familiar and idealized can promote relaxation and sleep. As for the sound produced by the train advancing on the rails, it is similar to a type of white noise that rocks us and makes us fall into the arms of Morpheus, underlines Rachel Salas.

Perhaps some people’s fascination with bedtime travelogues lies in the fact that they open doors to new adventures. Although it may seem stimulating, these stories provide a reassuring and safe way to discover the world.

[Ce qui joue, ndlr] “Neurologically, it’s the idea of ​​travelling, exploring new places, but also meeting people. We are naturally social beings. We have experienced times away from our families and friends, deprived of a certain freedom. Even if you are not a frequent traveller, you can always go to a restaurant or indulge in a new activity,” explains Rachel Salas.

There is another possible explanation for the influence of stories on our sleep: by cutting us off from light and outside noise, these stories allow an inner world, that is to say our imagination, to take over. Telling stories to fall asleep is an ancient ritual, “as old as literature,” says Martha Bayless. In a way, when we listen to a story to fall asleep, we return to the dawn of human civilization”.

“The most soothing bedtime stories aren’t very thrilling,” she continues. These are moments suspended between two adventures, like sleep”.

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Why do travelogues help us fall asleep?

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