What to read before bed: 7 essential books

Nov 01 2023

You’ve had a busy, hectic day, and you’re ready to call it a night. How do you wind down and ‘wipe the slate clean’ of all stress, the overthinking and the endless mental ‘to do’ list? What if you could read your way to better sleep?

What to read before bed: 7 essential books

You’ve had a busy, hectic day, and you’re ready to call it a night. How do you wind down and ‘wipe the slate clean’ of all stress, the overthinking and the endless mental ‘to do’ list? Some will swear by a pre-sleep ritual of low lights, no devices or meditation before bed. But what if you could read your way to better sleep?

According to research by the University of Sussex, reading is the best way to relax. The study suggested that as little as six minutes of reading can be enough to reduce stress levels by up to 68%. According to the National Sleep Foundation, reading a physical book – rather than a device, is the key to using reading to get a better night’s sleep.

Something poetic

You only need to look New Zealand’s borders to find poetry to dream on. If you’re a fan of Janet Frame, her poetry collection, The Pocket Mirror is one to seek out. Many of Fleur Adcock’s gentle poems are more like very short stories, and some are likely to make you smile as you drift off. Selina Tusitala Marsh represented New Zealand at London’s Poetry Olympics in 2012 with her modern, urban rhythms and stories, while Hone Tuwhare’s conversational tone retells Māori and biblical stories and celebrates the beauty of nature.

Something inspirational

You may like to have a book of inspirational quotes next to the bed, and choose one to read and meditate on each evening. We love anything written by the Dalai Lama. If inspirational aphorisms aren’t your thing, search for ‘motivational books’ and see which ones are recommended most often. Or try the memoir or biography of someone you really admire.

One of the classics

Classic (and modern classic) works of fiction actively engage the imagination, as the words on the page stimulate your creativity and take you on a journey to new worlds and towards an altered state of consciousness. The choice is very personal, but we suggest asking for recommendations at your favourite book shop, based on other books you’ve enjoyed. And read a few pages before you buy, because the writing style will influence how easy the book is to enjoy when you’re a little sleepy. But a good novel may be too hard to put down, so try this idea, but set yourself strict time limits.

Something funny

If you like to fall asleep with a smile on your lips, seek out some humour writing. Chances are, your favourite stand-up comic has a memoir, or even writes a spot of fiction, so it might help to start there. Now, what we find funny is a very personal matter, so we’re just going to suggest some of our favourite humour writers and let you make up your own mind.

- Jenny Lawson

- Bill Bryson

- P G Wodehouse

- Tina Fey

- David Sedaris

- Mindy Kaling

    Something practical

    Having a clean, calm space will help you sleep better, so topping our practical list is Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Described as the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness meets Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love’, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin tracks her year-long journey to contentment – drawing on science, philosophy, and real-world wisdom. Although if the ideas within this book get you a little too fired up, perhaps keep this one for weekend mornings.

    A gratitude journal

    Spend just five minutes before bed to reflect on, and write down, three things you’re grateful for from the day. Keeping a 'gratitude journal' will remind you of your progress – to help you stay motivated and simply make you feel good – particularly during challenging times. The Five Minute Journal contains words of wisdom from famous high achievers and daily formatted pages to add what you’re grateful for.

    A notebook (and pencil)

    If you don’t write down your brilliant ideas, you might forget them. And the time when we’re relaxed just before sleep, can be when our best creative ideas bubble to the surface. Keeping a notebook by the bedside lets you clear the mind for a good night sleep and stop these thoughts from invading your head space. Writing down your ‘to dos’ will also reduce feelings of overwhelm. Both naps and deep sleep can give you a fresh perspective, so having a notebook nearby when you’ve just woken up you can take advantage of the creativity boost.

    Further reading:

    Five ways reading can improve health and well-being

    Can reading before bed help you fall asleep?

    How Does Reading Before Bed Affect My Sleep?