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Not being able to sleep: we all hate it, right? When it’s way past my usual 10:30pm bedtime and I can feel my heart beating and mind racing, I know something’s off-balance. My best cure is a good book.
Generally I sleep well – and a lot. But not always. And it doesn’t take long for mild insomnia to start stressing me out. (There seems to be something hormonal behind my sleep issues; a few days a month I hear my heart beating and feel like I’ve had three espressos when I should be snoozing).
My sleep tactics cover all sorts of bases: including a warm bath with a few drops of neroli oil, a bedtime tea blend, the Calm app, and especially reading or listening to a relaxing book. If you haven’t tried it already, the Audible app has a great sleep timer to turn off after a set amount of time – I give it 40 minutes on a day I’m struggling to wind down.
Here are some of the best books to help you sleep if you also need a little help drifting off.
How to Read Nature: Awaken Your Senses to the Outdoors You’ve Never Noticed
Tristan Gooley is also one of the best guides to the details and patterns of the natural world. He’s also one of my favourite authors to enjoy via audiobooks, especially How to Read Nature; one of my go-to recommendations of books to help you fall asleep. You’ll drift off dreaming about country fields, mountains, and trickling streams.
The Secret History
Although Donna Tartt is best known for The Goldfinch, her earlier novel The Secret History is an incredible book with a cult following. It also contains one of my favourite quotes about not being able to sleep:
Nothing is lonelier or more disorienting than insomnia. I spent the nights reading Greek until four in the morning, until my eyes burned and my head swam, until the only light burning in Monmouth House was my own. When I could no longer concentrate on Greek and the alphabet began to transmute itself into incoherent triangles and pitchforks, I read The Great Gatsby. It is one of my favourite books and I had taken it out of the library in hopes that it would cheer me up; of course, it only made me feel worse, since in my own humorless state I failed to see anything except what I construed as certain tragic similarities between Gatsby and myself.
The Great Gatsby
As The Secret History recommends, pick up The Great Gatsby if you’re struggling to cross into dreamland.
Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose
In her lovely book Rhythms of Renewal, Rebekah Lyons draws from her own battle with depression and anxiety to establish four life-giving rhythms that quiet inner chaos and make room for a flourishing life. Read this and find time to rest, restore, connect, and create to welcome in a more joyful and rejuvenated way of living.
His Dark Materials
I recently decided to read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy again, and it’s this book that has been helping me drift off to sleep lately. Read about Lyra’s adventures, mythical beasts and the beautiful aurora in the North as you wind down from the day and prepare for sleep.
Cutting for Stone
Cutting for Stone is another book that I’ve loved recently. It’s a big book that’s perfect to read for half an hour before bed every night. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be counting down the hours until you can get back to it.
Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less
“Deliberate rest,” as Pang calls it, is the true key to productivity, and will give us more energy, sharper ideas, and a better life. Rest offers a roadmap to rediscovering the importance of rest in our lives, and a convincing argument that we need to relax more if we actually want to get more done.
What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey
I read this back in the summer of 2018 after leaving my job and adored it. What I Know For Sure is a compilation of the wisdom shared in Oprah’s widely popular “What I Know For Sure” column, a monthly source of inspiration and revelation.
While it’s inspiring, it won’t make you too motivated and excited to take action, like many other self-improvement books. So it’s a great book for relaxing with before bed.
The Garden of Evening Mists
One of my all-time favourite novels, The Garden of Evening Mists won the Man Asian Literary Prize for its remarkably elegant and haunting weaving together of war, art and memory during the Japanese occupation of Malaya. Every time I mention this book to someone, I know I should reread it soon.
The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot
I’ve been recommending Robert Macfarlane quite a lot recently, and The Old Ways is one of the best starting points for one of Britain’s best-loved nature writers.
Before falling asleep, immerse yourself in his journeys on foot following the ancient routes that crisscross the landscape of the British Isles and its waters and territories beyond. The Old Ways was chosen by Slate as one of the 50 best nonfiction books of the past 25 years.
Everything in its Place: First Loves and Last Tales
I would give everyone a copy of Oliver Sacks’s essays if I could. Everything in Its Place is his most recent anthology, published posthumously last year after his death in 2015, and it’s a lovely book to read in small moments and to help you sleep. His autobiography is also fantastic.
Philosophy for Polar Explorers
I read Philosophy for Polar Explorers recently on a train from London to Glasgow and adored it (nearly as much as Erling Kagge’s other beautiful little hardback, Silence: In the Age of Noise which I’ve celebrated before.) If you have an adventurous spirit and a penchant for remote journeys, I think you’ll love it too as a relaxing bedtime book.