1 May 2019 Susannah

Oh sleep! It is a gentle thing,

“Oh sleep! It is a gentle thing
Beloved from pole to pole”

writes Coleridge in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. There are times when I resent my need for a good 8 hours sleep each night – just think of all the reading time that is using up! But when I struggle with jetlag, I realise just how vital sleep is to my mood and wellbeing. The importance of sleep is well explained in a book I’ve just read, The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington. It was full of fascinating information about sleep and also about how our modern world is affected by people who don’t get enough sleep – think of overworked young doctors or truck drivers functioning on only 4 hours of sleep. The author discussed dreams, jetlag (did you know the word was coined in 1966?), ways to improve your sleep and all the dangers of not getting enough, but there was one terrible omission in her book. Only one line of nearly 400 pages mentioned books. For me, sleep and books are intimately connected.

Tests are now showing that reading for even ten minutes before turning out the light will give you better sleep. Reading reduces stress by switching your brain from all the business of the day, and it relaxes you (though you should not read from a lit up screen before sleep but from an actual book, as screens before bed greatly damage the quantity and quality of your sleep). Reading last thing at night increases your brain power and improves creativity and can also boost the quality of your dreams, reading increases your empathy so if you’ve climbed into bed feeling cross with someone then reading will lessen that crossness. A book brings peace and serenity for the night.

However, what you read in bed can also make a difference. Of course, much comes down to personal preference. I don’t think that a book about business or a self-help book will do much to help you unwind before sleep, and a gripping thriller can keep you up far later than you planned, so something not too demanding, but also cheerful and entertaining, is really ideal. I remember reading an article that claimed the very best author to take to bed with you is Trollope (yes, plenty of puns can be made on that subject!).

Trollope’s works are incredibly soothing and gentle – not so full of action and drama that you’ll be up all night, but not so dull that you’ll be asleep after a page. He calms you, delights you and doesn’t overly excite you. Harold MacMillan claimed that Trollope was “a drug” he couldn’t do without, and both Sir Alec Guinness and economist John Kenneth Galbraith insisted they could never go on a holiday without taking a Trollope novel.

What books do you find the best reading just before sleep? A good classic always works for me though if it is Jane Austen my mind gets too busy thinking about possible future events for the Jane Austen Society. If you want to go immediately to sleep, try Thomas Carlyle or one of Disraeli’s novels or perhaps some deeply complex William Faulkner or Finnegan’s Wake, but if you want to fall asleep happily and in good time, then give Trollope a go!

Do you read before sleeping? Have you already gone to bed with Trollope? Tell me your thoughts by leaving a comment.

I only recommend books I have read and know. Some of these links are my affiliate links. If you buy a book by clicking on one of these links I receive a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but does help cover the cost of producing my free newsletter.

 

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Featured image credit- Oh sleep, from https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-sleeping-935777/ and http://ariannahuffington.com/books/the-sleep-revolution-tr/the-sleep-revolution-hc
Body image credit- “Picture of Anthony Trollope” by Napoleon Sarony – The New York Public Library. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Comments (10)

  1. I love those two lines from the Rhyme of he Ancient Mariner and have known them for a long time – I’m an insomniac.
    I look forward to your emails that reach all the way up here – in Toronto.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it a superb poem. Have you ever listened to Richard Burton reading it – simply stunning!
      So glad you receive and enjoy my newsletter.

  2. Trish

    Alexander M’Call Smith’s novels had a wonderful sophorific effect on my irregular sleeping patterns. The novels were well written, interesting but not gripping..so I could put them down easily. After finishing the series, I have been unable to find anything similar.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, they are excellent pre-sleep reading, I agree.

      • Yvonne

        I often read biographies before going to sleep and that works well for me…..of course it takes ages to finish them.
        Classical novels as Audio books work well too. Deep soothing voices have me drift off in no time.
        Good choice Trish, you can always rely on Alexander McCall-Smith to put you in a happy frame of mind.

        • Susannah Fullerton

          I hadn’t thought about biographies as good sleep-inducing books, but you are right. Interesting, but not too exciting and so just right for pre-sleep reading.

  3. Jami Acworth

    I agree that reading is definitively associated with sleep in my life. As a sufferer of mental health disorders, chronic neck pain and migraines I have had frequent bouts of sleep difficulty in my life and have disputed most ardently when various, supposedly authoritative, practitioners have advised that I really shouldn’t read in bed. Reading for at least half an hour before bed has been a relaxing and restorative ritual I’ve engaged in since childhood. Although I do also agree that it does need to be only mildly stimulating. The book on my bedside table at present is ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ and it is, in the words of Goldilocks, ‘just right!’.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      How can any therapist suggest that reading before sleep is not ideal??? If you have the right book, then reading in bed relaxes and calms you at the end of the day.
      And I agree about Eleanor Oliphant – I loved it.

  4. Phil Waite

    Hello Susanna, I certainly like to read for a few minutes before turning out the light. But I’m very fussy what it is… it can’t be a book cos, as I get drowsy, it falls out of my hand making a noise and jolting me awake. (Also if I book, I have to re-read as I forget what has happened in my sleepy state.)
    So it has to be something physically light, easy to follow but interesting enough to remove me from the cares of the day. My top choice are articles from SMH “Good Weekend” . Entertaining, meaty enough to keep me interested, in fact “just right”.
    Now I wonder if everyone else is as pernickety?

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Gosh, that’s an interesting choice. I read lying on my side, so the book cannot fall anywhere – it is already resting on the bed. I think articles would get my brain too busy, but it’s all about what works best for each individual. So long as it relaxes you at the end of each day.

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