Welcome to the Adult Bedtime Story Era: Matthew McConaughey Wants to Lull You to Sleep

adult bedtime stories: woman sleeping
Paula Boudes/PureWow

You read Goodnight Moon six times before you tuck your kids into bed. When you finally hop into your own bed, you’re exhausted, but transitioning from wake to sleep—no matter how much magnesium oil you spray on your feet—isn’t an on-and-off switch. You could really use your own Goodnight Moon reading. Maybe we never outgrow the need to be rocked to sleep in the arms of a caregiver as they gingerly guide us from one plane to the next, but, it’s kinda an awkward request, no? Enter: the adult bedtime story.

Be sure, this is nothing new. Thanks to the TV and internet, we have been enveloping ourselves in the warm glow of the velvety calm voices of Bob Ross and various QVC hosts for quite a while now. Maybe you, like me, cued your iPod Mini up to hear Terry Gross or Ira Glass whisper sweet NPR nothings in your ear. In fact, it was a This American Life episode that first introduced me to ASMR. Reporter Andrea Siegel spoke about her discovery in the March 29, 2013 “Tribes” episode in a segment titled “A Tribe Called Rest”:

So I googled ASMR, which led me And an entry for ASMR that reads, "Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is a term used to describe a sensory experience characterized by a tingling sensation in the head and scalp, which can be triggered by sounds like whispering or brushing, and visual stimulus like painting or drawing." It continued. "On YouTube, the phenomenon inspired the creation of whisperer videos, in which people attempt to trigger the viewer's ASMR by speaking in a soft voice and making various sounds with inanimate objects."

One of the whisper video creators Siegel referenced was Maria Viktorovna, aka GentleWhispering. At the time of publication, Viktorovna, who, according to Siegel, “does the most compelling napkin-folding video I've ever seen,” had 77,000 subscribers. A decade later, the ASMRtist’s YouTube channel is up to 2.24 million. In a 2014 Washington Post profile, Viktorovna shared how she’s received thank-you messages from viewers with anxiety, stress or sleep disorders.

The actual content doesn't really's intimate, it's weird and it's created an entire sub-genre of ASMR content.
Dasha Burobina/PureWow

Full disclosure: I am a GentleWhispering stan. (Her early lo-fi medical equipment consultation videos knock me out.) So, when I reached out to her for this story, I was a bit starstruck when the Queen of ASMR responded.

sssThe Strange Power of *Insert Lip Smack* Whispersss

Just like the rest of us zombies, Viktorovna discovered the ASMR community as she was struggling with her own depression and anxiety-related sleeplessness. When I asked her as to why her viewers find the mundane videos, like shuffling through a Sears catalog or a corporate benefits package, so relaxing—and not in the “this is so boring I’m getting sleepy” way, but in a “this is calming me to my bones” way—she supposes that it’s not necessarily the topics. It’s the sense of care and connection: “I think this could be because we all need some extra personal attention with the chaotic world we live in,” she tells me. The actual content doesn't really matter. It's that Viktorovna is looking into camera, making virtual eye contact while creating a sonic experience, like lip smacking or nail tapping, that, combined with her simply being with us, triggers the tingles. It's intimate. It's weird. And it's created an entire sub-genre of ASMR content known as Personal Attention videos.

Even if viewers don’t experience the ASMR effect, many still find content like GentleWhispering relaxing, almost as if they’re watching bedtime stories. Says Viktorovna, “I suppose in a way, that's why many are consuming the content, much like when your loved one would read you a book in a calming voice before you went to sleep as a child. I've often thought there is a direct connection between childhood [and] the videos in that style we are trying to recreate.”

the narratives intentionally get less interesting as the story goes on

Silicon Valley also jumped on the sleep content boom. Headspace and MindStrong got in early with mindfulness apps, placing easy meditation directives in the hands of Zen-seeking rookies. Calm entered the arena in 2012 with guided meditations. In 2014, Ariana Huffington began what would become her “sleep revolution” with the publishing of Thrive, a self-help book that argues the importance of mindfulness and sleep in a 24/7 burnout world. Today, Thrive Global is essentially a workplace wellness program, designed to increase productivity by offering up helpful pointers like “Drink some water when you wake up,” and “Don’t look at your phone during mealtime.” Thrive Global was valued at more than $700 million as of 2021.

Calm is also thriving. But it was their pivot to bedtime, in particular, that may have been the game changer. A Calm spokesperson told me that as their mindfulness and meditation community grew, they saw a significant spike in usage around bedtime even though at the time, they didn’t offer sleep-specific content. So, in 2016, Sleep Stories was born. Calm’s Sleep Stories are intentionally crafted to be peaceful and soothing. All aspects of the Story—the content, the voice, the score—are designed to deliver the perfect adult bedtime story. Says their spokesperson: “Our starting point is developing a simple, descriptive story with an uneventful storyline. The goal is to keep the listener lightly engaged throughout as we transport them into a restful sleep.” Similar to YouTube’s ASMR community, the underlying theme is mundanity. In fact, “[The Stories] intentionally get less interesting as the story goes on.”

The next ingredient for the ideal adult bedtime story would probably be your mother’s voice. Since that’s harder to scale, the software company went with celebrities and mindfulness influencers. “Some of our most popular Sleep Stories™ are: Blue Gold, narrated by Stephen Fry; Wonder, narrated by Matthew McConaughey; The Waterfall, narrated by Tamara Levitt; The Nordland Night Train, narrated by Erik Braa and Dream with Me, narrated by Harry Styles.”

Counting Sheep, Counting Dollars

Don’t let McConaughey’s Texas drawl fool you, though. He’s not just helping you fall asleep. At its last funding round, Calm was valued at $2 billion. And along with Headspace and Thrive Global, it has become another wellness company that’s laddered up their promise of serenity into the healthcare world. The combined 2022 layoffs and acquisition of Ripple Health Group point to Calm positioning itself for a big healthcare run—specifically in the mental health space.

But the sleep-to-mental-health pipeline is substantiated. Lack of sleep decays our brains. Anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and paranoia are all effects of sleep deprivation. The more we want or need to sleep, the more our brains begin to work against us. For millions of people, some form of mindfulness is the solution. We know that music has calming psychobiological effects. And we know that reading to our children before bed has positive emotional and neurological effects. But there’s little research on adult bedtime stories or ASMR. And yet anecdotally, the data seems to speak for itself: Calm has 4 million subscribers and 100 million downloads. The company’s Sleep Stories have been listened to more than 350 million times. The ASMR community continues to thrive and regenerate with new creators publishing content to help their viewers fall asleep. Bob Ross’s gentle voice continues to soothe on YouTube decades after his death.

We want to sleep. Desperately. But for lots of us, it’s scary to do alone. Perhaps passing over our user data in exchange for a night with McConaughey is totally worth the zzzs.


Executive Editor, Frazzled Mom, Bravo-Holic

Dara Katz is PureWow's Executive Editor, focusing on relationships, sex, horoscopes, travel and pets. Dara joined PureWow in 2016 and now dresses so much better. A lifestyle...