“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.
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