Books for insomnia: a bedtime bibliotherapy reading plan to help you fall asleep

Insomnia reading plan with bibliotherapy
Can I use fiction and bibliotherapy to help my insomnia? Image source.


The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
– Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening – Robert Frost

You may recall me mentioning a few months ago that I was having trouble sleeping, a problem I’m still facing. Could bibliotherapy possibly help my insomnia, or is it back to the Diazepam?

I’ve always been one of those people who spends a while just thinking things over before I fall asleep, but sometimes this gets a bit out of hand. When thinking turns to worrying tends to be when it’s most dangerous, meaning that I’ll stare at the ceiling most the night and feel completely useless and exhausted the following day. I’ll then find myself thinking that this exhaustion will guarantee a good nights sleep to come, but I’ll always end up staring at the ceiling again. And repeat.

I’ll note that night terrors are pretty much guaranteed when I’m in a hotel room or new place overnight. I imagine this links to the PTSD remnants that still lurk inside.

It’s easy to conclude that I sleep much better when I’m back at home in England. Here in Spain I rarely have a great night’s sleep, while back in Sussex I’m usually asleep pretty soon after hitting the pillow. Maybe this suggests the following: I’m less healthy, happy and relaxed here than I am at home. Which makes sense. Maybe a follow-up post is required on homesickness (just a quick tip: Edward Thomas’s ‘Home’ poems have done wonders in making me feel I’m not alone with this).

Whatever the circumstances, I need something to help me out with sleeping.

Types of books that have helped my insomnia before

  • Poetry. It’s easy to process and it’s shorter than fiction. I tend to prefer reading only a few poems at a time due to jumps in subject, though.
  • Fiction with beautiful settings. I love reading about dreamy settings that are deep in nature, relaxing and positive.
  • Lighthearted books. Often treating myself to something easy-to-read is just what I need to fall back in love fully with fiction. It can also help me to relax enough to fall asleep.
  • Books with calming characters. I like to read books with characters that lull me off into a safe enough state to sleep. Renée in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, perhaps.
  • Books I associate with happy memories. Not much to explain – rereading books we read at a happy time (or books we associate with one) causes happy things to happen in the brain.
  • Extracts and poetry I know by heart. Not exactly books, but repeating in my mind extracts and poems that I’ve learnt by heart has always been an anti-insomnia tool for me. Wordworth’s My Heart Leaps Up and Frank O’Hara’s Mayakovksy come to mind.
  • Philosophy. Sometimes reading a little philosophy gives me something to ponder instead of my own anxieties, although I prefer not to choose anything too heavy. Michel de Montaigne or Epictetus often does the trick.

Books that make falling asleep more difficult

  • Most self-help. I’ve been reading Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Work Week (you either love him or hate him; I can’t quite decide which side I take) and it really isn’t ideal for bedtime reading. Books about getting out, doing things and improving myself just get me worked up, twitchy and restless at night-time.
  • Scary books. This may not bother some of you, but monsters and zombies will never help me sleep well.
  • Books I struggle with. I seriously disliked Cloud Atlas, and reading it before bed made me frustrated and even close to despising my bedtime reading habit. Bedtime reading shouldn’t allow for forcing yourself to read books you struggle with or dislike.


An Insomnia Reading List


To be prescribed:

30 minutes – 1 hour before bed every evening, ideally with a night-time tea blend.

Will these books help me sleep better and address my insomnia? I’m looking forward to testing some of them out and keeping you posted! If you also have trouble sleeping, does reading help you, or does it keep you awake?

It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at

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