“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.”The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Not being able to sleep: we all hate it. 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.
If you haven’t tried it already, the Audible app also has a handy sleep timer to turn off audiobooks after a set amount of time – I give it 40 minutes on a day I’m struggling to wind down.
If you’re unsure what to read before bed, here are some of the most relaxing books to help you sleep if you need a little help drifting off.
The best books to read before bed to help you drift off to sleep
(Looking for audiobooks to help you fall asleep? You might like my list of the best bedtime audiobooks to help you drift off to sleep.)
1. How to Read Nature: Awaken Your Senses to the Outdoors You’ve Never Noticed by Tristan Gooley
Tristan Gooley is one of the best guides to the details and patterns of the natural world. How to Read Nature is also one of my top recommended books to help you fall asleep.
You’ll drift off dreaming about country fields, mountains, and trickling streams, while also gaining some ancient wisdom on how to read the sky, weather, trees, and water of the natural world.
2. The Anti-Insomnia Notebook – An Evidence-Based Program for Better Sleep by Therapy Notebooks
Therapy Notebooks are one of my favourite publishers of self-help notebooks, offering beautiful hardbound books like this Anti-Insomnia Notebook.
Keep a copy of this book for good sleep on your bedside table to turn restless nights into restful ones with an evidence-based program for better sleep, based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia.
3. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
In a thread about the books to read to fall asleep, Reddit user qiuel writes: “Bit of a weird one, but Norse Mythology. I can’t quite explain it but, as violent as it is at times, there’s something so comfy about Gaiman’s writing.”
This is Neil Gaiman’s retelling of the great Norse myths, breathing new life into the captivating ancient tales of Odin, Thor, and Loki among others.
For cozy reads (with less aggression) to help you fall asleep, head over to my recommendations of the most wholesome comfort reads for a hug from a book.
4. The Bear by Andrew Krivak
A few months ago when I was having trouble sleeping, The Bear was the perfect book to read before bed.
The book reads like a dream, even though it’s ultimately about loss: it’s a story of the last two humans on earth, a father and daughter living in an Edenic future close to nature.
Drift off dreaming of lone mountains, whispering forests, handfuls of foraged herbs, and bears with poignant life lessons if we only stop to listen.
5. Bedtime Adventure Stories for Grown Ups by Anna McNuff
If your idea of perfect bedtime reading is a playful antidote to adult life, read adventurer Anna McNuff’s collection of bedtime stories for adults.
Escape into one of the inspiring and lighthearted stories each evening and dream of kayaking down a gorge in New Zealand, running night-time marathons through the Californian desert, or exploring Europe by bike.
6. Distilled Genius: A Collection of Life-Changing Quotations by Susan Branch
Distilled Genius is the perfect book to dive into for a few minutes before bed. Accompanied by gentle watercolours in Susan Branch’s inimitable style, it’s a beautiful collection of life-changing quotations, collected over the course of forty years.
Turn to any page for charming handwritten quotes on life’s meaning, joy, and fulfillment from figures as diverse as Marcus Aurelius, Louisa May Alcott, Rosa Parks, and Mark Twain.
7. Rooms of Their Own: Where Great Writers Write by Alex Johnson and James Oses
For gently inspiring bedtime reading, bibliophiles can treat themselves to a beautiful hardbound cover of Rooms of Their Own.
Offering words by Alex Johnson and evocative watercolour illustrations by James Oses, this is a celebration of creativity, focus, and the craft of writing, featuring James Baldwin, the Brontë sisters, and Astrid Lindgren among other favourite writers.
Travel from the comfort of your bed to examine the unique spaces, habits, and rituals in which famous writers created their most notable works, from luxury writing retreats to empty sheds at the bottom of the garden.
8. The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry’s poems are gorgeous love letters to the land that offer the perfect nighttime reading. If you already love Mary Oliver’s poetry, this is an especially great choice to read next.
Before bed, retreat into these short, simple, and profoundly wise hymns to the cycles of nature and hope, love, healing, loss, friendship, and belonging.
9. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
When I decided to reread Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, Northern Lights did a fantastic job at helping me to fall asleep more easily.
In this childhood classic that’s full of life’s big questions, 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.
10. Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
“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.
11. The Collected Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
“Sherlock Holmes is my favorite. I have a volume with all the stories in it, so if I feel like a short story I’ll read that, but if I have more time I’ll start a novel. Takes me back to the wonderfully cozy world of 221b Baker Street every time.”
12. What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey
I read What I Know For Sure back in the summer of 2018 after leaving my job and adored it. This 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.
Although it’s full of motivation, it’s gently restful and won’t make you too excited to take action immediately (and struggle to sleep) like many other self-improvement books.
13. Nothing Much Happens: Calming Stories to Soothe Your Mind & Help You Sleep
If you struggle with insomnia, you might have heard of the podcast Nothing Much Happens. It’s one of those excellent creations with a title that lets you know exactly what you’re getting: in this case, stories where nothing much happens.
Creator and host Kathryn Nicolai has created this companion book of calming stories to soothe your mind and help you sleep as a wonderfully relaxing bedtime book for adults.
Accompanied by cozy and relaxing illustrations, the unnamed, gender-neutral narrators recount their days and evoke the distinct comforts offered by each of the four seasons as they gently guide you toward sleep.
14. Gratitude by Oliver Sacks
I would give everyone a copy of Oliver Sacks’s essays if I could. Gratitude is my favourite book by neurosurgeon and writer Oliver Sacks, available as a lovely hardcover which I’ve given to several friends.
Written during the last few months of his life, this set of essays was Oliver Sacks’s way of exploring his feelings about completing a life and coming to terms with its closure, offering an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the gift of living.
It’s a lovely book to read in small moments, especially before bed. Sacks’s autobiography, On the Move, is also fantastic.
“My predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved. I have been given much and I have given something in return. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”Gratitude by Oliver Sacks
For thirty days of free audiobooks to help your sleep along, you can also start a free trial of Audible Plus to access thousands of audiobooks in the Plus catalog.
If you adore books, need a bit of a boost, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, check out The Sanctuary, a seven-day course from Tolstoy Therapy.