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March 18, 2017
“THIS BOOK WILL keep you up all night” is praise that many an author aspires to, but it’s not such a welcome attribute to readers who have trouble sleeping. The occasional late-night marathon with a nail-biting page-turner can be a fun diversion, but when sleep is essential, you may want to put down the Stieg Larsson and pick up Steinbeck. Whether you are one of the 70 million Americans suffering from a sleep disorder or you’re simply having an uncharacteristically sleepless night, the right book might be just the thing to usher you off to the Land of Nod.
Classics often top the lists of sleep-inducing books. The reason for this? What’s considered the “ideal” book structure has changed through the years. Today, many people read for entertainment, and readers often feel cheated if a book doesn’t keep them clinging to the edge of their seats. Books of yesteryear tended to have more exposition and less action. Plus, sentences were considerably longer back in the day, and their complexity was ideal for lulling the mind into a restful state. According to informal surveys of college students, Shakespeare, Hemingway, Faulkner, and Melville number among the authors most likely to get you snoring. The bookish website Goodreads maintains a user-ranked list entitled “Most Boring Book Ever!” While it’s just as likely to be topped by modern books that readers find overrated or annoying, there’s some degree of universal agreement that classics like Atlas Shrugged, The Catcher in the Rye, and The Scarlet Letter are total snoozefests.
Non-fiction literature contains diverse disciplines, but in general, it’s geared more toward informational purposes, rather than pure entertainment. This makes it a good choice for a bedtime read. History books are usually a safe bet, although some authors, like Erik Larson and Sebastian Junger, write about historic events in a way that makes them feel more like modern-day thrillers.
Memoirs and biographies are also good choices for nocturnal nonfiction, and they don’t have to be boring, as literary critic Jonathan Russell Clark points out. Clark’s recommendations include Capote by Gerald Clarke, Jane Smiley’s Charles Dickens: A Life, and Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris.
The world of self-help books covers nearly every conceivable topic, sleep included. Books like This Book Will Make You Sleep and I Can Make You Sleep purport to, well, make you sleep. Whether they live up to their claims is up for debate, but they’re worth a shot, at least.
If you’re a die-hard bibliophile who tends to get caught up in almost any story, you might need to try a shorter format. Magazines and newspapers articles, for example, require shorter periods of engagement because you can always stop after one article or column. Books of short stories, poetry, or essays may be good choices as well.
Genres that get your heart racing or your mind churning, like mysteries, horror, and adventure stories, are probably not the best late-night literary fare. James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell, and Stephen King make less than ideal bedfellows, and those wildly popular psychological thrillers, like The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, and In a Dark, Dark Wood are better saved for your commute or lunch breaks.
No matter what type of book (or periodical) you choose to accompany you to bed, you’re better off opting for old-school. The blue-toned light from devices, such as e-readers and smartphones, can worsen insomnia by disrupting melatonin production. Share your favorite bedtime reads in the comments