Read yourself to sleep

books before bed

My earliest ever memory is of sitting on the kitchen counter in my childhood home, being spoon-fed a yellow medicine that was supposed to help me get to sleep. Yep, I’ve had insomnia literally all my life. For 24 years, I’ve drunk a lot of caffeine, got a lot of work done (*cough* watched a lot of Netflix) in the early hours of the morning, and looked down my nose at people who claim to need 7 full hours of sleep per night. But now I’m tired. So in 2016, I’m finally going to learn how to sleep. And I’m gonna start with the best medicine I know: reading! Apparently, reading the right books before bed can work wonders on your sleep.

Whenever I’ve tried to research insomnia, I’ve found it really hard to pinpoint exactly what kind I have. If you’re also struggling to figure out what’s keeping you awake all night, let’s go on this journey together! Over the next few weeks, I’m going to explore a bunch of the different kinds of sleep disorder—and I even have an appointment at The London Sleep Centre (fancy) to really nail this down. And along the way, I’m going to compile a special reading list just for us insomniacs!

And what do books have to do with anything? Well, I’ve been reading about bibliotherapy, which suggests that prescribing the right books can help with all sorts of ailments, from anxiety to a broken heart. The theory is that seeing your own problems reflected in a book can be a really effective therapy—and you know what? I totally buy it.

books before bed the house of sleepIn the bibliotherapy reference book The Novel Cure, insomnia is treated with House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe. Apparently it will “fascinate the sleep-deprived” and “entice you to look curiously into your mirrored narcoleptic eyes”, which sounds creepy if you ask me but I’ve bought it anyway. I’m also going to add my own recommendation: Sleep Donation by Karen Russell, a short story about an insomnia epidemic killing off the population. Its descriptions of extreme sleep-deprivation are horribly familiar, and can make you feel way less alone in the middle of your painful, caffeine-fuelled afternoon.

But if you’re looking for books before bed, these are not them. Reading this kind of spooky thriller just before you shut your eyes isn’t gonna get you anywhere, so The Novel Cure suggests you put them down as the sun sets, and pick up The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa instead. The Book of Disquiet doesn’t really have a plot, and so reading it will lull you into that perfect “heavy, pre-sleep state” that you need.

So remember: screens off, phones down, don’t eat that last square of chocolate before bed—and jump under the covers with this lot. See you in the recommended eight hours!