Once Upon A Time: The Importance of Bedtime Stories for Children

Ingy ElAdly
· 10 min read

Many people remember bedtime during childhood with the image of an adult sitting by their bed, either holding a book or holding them, and reciting a story that ranges from fairytales, popular cultural tales to the narrator’s own creative imagination or experiences. However, did we ever dig deeper into this pre-sleep ritual, those stories, their effect and what their role is in the child’s attachment and upbringing? This article will explore the remarkable research findings regarding this topic to see whether bedtime stories have an integral role for the child or are rather only recited to make him/her sleep peacefully.

Many parents in different cultures choose to set forth a bedtime routine for their children. This can vary from having activities such as drinking milk before bed, brushing their teeth, showering, changing into their pajamas to listening to a bedtime story in bed (Jenni & O’Connor, 2005). This consistency is unlikely to be found in disadvantaged homes. In an investigation of sleep patterns in 103 children in India from the ages of 3 to 10 years, showed that only 42% had an implemented and fixed bedtime routine (Bharti, Malhi, & Kashyap, 2006).

Bedtime stories are mostly narrated or read by an adult (could be a parent, grandparent or any member of the family including an older sibling). Sometimes the child takes part of this pre-sleep ritual by being a reader instead of a mere listener. The content of those stories greatly varies from mythology, fairy tales, personal stories, etc. In the Middle East, children are usually used to listening to the stories of “One Thousand and One Nights”, which include tales of adventure and fate that are derived from Persian stories. An example would be the story of Shahrazad, who in an attempt to save her life, narrates a story each night to her husband Shahrayar, the king. Every day the child gets to wait for the next part of the unfinished story, which ensures that the execution of the queen is delayed until yet another night. Can all this excitement of a bedtime story only serve to make a child sleep peacefully?
This notion has been no longer considered to be entirely true. Scientific literature conducted in the past decades sheds light on the link between bedtime storytelling and the developmental as well as therapeutic effects and benefits this inclusion of a bedtime story and routine have on the child (Writer, 2018).

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Some parents choose to include language-based routines as a pre-sleep ritual which usually includes signing, playing games as well as storytelling. These have been found to have a positive impact in children of the age of 3 on their cognitive development, and those of the age of 5 on their behavior (Hale et al., 2011).
These results allude to a richer vocabulary as well as less anxious and aggressive behavior in children. The former is likely to have a more lasting impact as seen by a study, conducted by Moss (1976) which identifies the language-related benefits bedtime stories have at a young age. These include improvement in language and narrative skills, reading comprehension and creativity (as bedtime stories increase the child’s imagination).
Moreover, these stories showcase social and emotional assets (Blake & Maiese, 2008). The child’s sensitivity towards the mental states of other people is likely to increase which in the long run develops what we know of today as emotional intelligence (EI). The relationship and attachment between child and caregiver/parent is also strengthened as it helps the child cherish a sense of belonging and security, even when a new sibling is born.

Can we utilize the content of bedtime stories to teach children not only a lesson but also change their behavior? A study carried out by Christodulu & Durand (2004) has shown that children with developmental disorders (i.e. suffering from sleep difficulties) have benefited from bedtime stories as it brought them relief and put an end to many problems including waking up in the middle of the night. Hereby, parents can include behavioral restrictions and reinforcements to alleviate the stress/ sleep problems and alter the child’s behavior.

What types of bedtime stories should we read to our children? A child’s subconscious records everything and might even dream about the story he has heard right before bed. This is why sometimes parents are told not to read their children horror stories or any story with content that does not suit their age frame. It’s also recommended that we read our children stories that have a moral and stray away from those that don’t. This goes to show how the content of those stories could add to the moral development of the children as well as it gives them the opportunity to reflect on what is right and wrong.

Thus, the role of bedtime stories is of great importance for children as it extends far beyond the notion of helping a child sleep peacefully. This phenomenon, which we have looked upon as being of great cultural roots, has turned out to potentially have an impact on the child’s life, whether cognitively, socially or psychologically.


Bharti, B., Malhi, P., & Kashyap, S. (2006). Patterns and problems of sleep in school going children. Indian Pediatrics, 43, 35-38.

Blake, J. & Maiese, N. (2008). No fairytale...The benefits of the bedtime story. The psychologist, 21(5).386-388.

Christodulu, K. & Durand, V. (2004). Reducing bedtime disturbance and night waking using positive bedtime routines and sleep restriction.Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities, 19(3), 130-139.

Hale, L., Berger, L. M., LeBourgeois, M. K., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2011). A longitudinal study of preschoolers’ language-based bedtime routines, sleep duration, and wellbeing. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(3), 423-433.

Jenni, O. & O’Connor, B. (2005). Children’s sleep: An interplay between culture and biology. Pediatrics, 115(1 Suppl), 204-216.

Moss, J. F. (1976).The bedtime story and language development. American Journal of Diseases of Children, 130(2).180-183.

Writer, S. (2018). The bedtime story: A new chapter. Indian Journal of Health and Well Being, 9(1), 155-157.