How To Choose A Bedtime Read That Will Help You Drift Off, From Sleep Experts
Once upon a time, decades before my nighttime routine consisted of a multi-step skin care regimen or guided meditation, I would fall asleep to the sound of my parents reading me a bedtime story. I can remember so clearly brushing my teeth, standing on my tiptoes to reach the sink, rushing in anticipation to choose the night's read.
Back then, my genre choices were limited to age-appropriate fairy tales and moral stories. Now, my reading tastes run the gamut. But thrillers and existential explorations aren't exactly literary lullabies, so now I'm wondering how to choose a bedtime read that will actually help me fall asleep. Here's what the experts had to say about choosing a book that'll get you in the right frame of mind for nighttime.
Why you should avoid overly stressful reads right before bed.
Major Allison Brager, Ph.D., a neuroscientist involved in the U.S. Army's Holistic Health and Fitness System specializing in sleep, tells mbg the activities we choose to engage in before bed should be relaxing in order to help the body transition into a low-level activity state. This includes the materials you read before drifting off to sleep, as the words on the page can help promote the transition from wake to sleep.
What's more, bedtime reads can also influence your dreams, and, not to mention, set you up for the day ahead. "The thoughts you go to sleep with are often the first ones that greet you when you awake. And your first thoughts [as well as the quality of sleep you clocked in the night before] often program your mood for the entire day," says Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., a sleep expert and author of From Fatigued to Fantastic. Ergo, you want to avoid bedtime reads that can trigger an adrenaline release, making it harder to fall asleep, or that have dark themes that could lead to nightmares.
What to pick instead.
While you don't want to choose a bedtime read that's going to have you jumping out of your skin or contemplating the meaning of life at 11 o'clock at night (anything that's going to activate the nervous system is a no-go), the story should be engaging enough that it pulls your mind away from stressful thoughts.
Of course, the kind of bedtime read that will help you achieve this is subjective. "What one person finds sleep-promoting might be too exciting or too much of a page-turner for another person," explain Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright, founders of The Happy Sleeper and authors of Generation Sleepless. The key, here, is not to choose something too boring, the duo tells mbg, "or other thoughts will creep in that keep you awake."
Certified sleep consultant and founder of Live Love Sleep Kaley Medina also flags high-interest reads—the page-turners you've been dying to get your hands on and simply cannot put down out of sheer curiosity about what comes next. You'll most likely want to read these all the way through, so they may not be the best for bedtime. "You will most likely find yourself delaying bedtime or staying up late thinking about what happens next," Medina tells mbg.
So what sort of bedtime reads strike the perfect balance between not too interesting but not too boring? Well, it depends who you ask. The general consensus is to pick something lighthearted, with happy themes, that can also be calming for your busy mind.
Teitelbaum reveals he tends to reach for a romantic comedy, while Turgeon and Wright recommend travelogues, light fantasy, stories about friendship, and some biographies. Mostly anything non-scary fiction is a win for sleep expert Michael J. Breus, Ph.D. (aka The Sleep Doctor), especially if it's a physical book over a digital copy to avoid blue light exposure (which has effects on the body that can also be quite scary!).
Reading can help you fall asleep by transporting your mind to a fantastical place far removed from your everyday reality. But not just any book or story will do. Choosing the right bedtime read can be the difference between falling asleep fast and staying asleep the entire night through or struggling to get some much-needed shut-eye. The key is to choose a read that will capture your attention and give your brain a break from your everyday stressors but won't be too exciting that it revs up your nervous system, leaving you wide-eyed and awake until the final page.
Julia Guerra is a health and wellness writer reporting for mindbodygreen, Elite Daily, and INSIDER. Formerly the beauty editor for BestProducts.com, she's contributed to Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, PopSugar, and more. A book worm and fitness enthusiast, her happiest moments are spent with her husband, family, sipping tea, and cuddling with her Tabby cat, Aria.