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8 Relaxing Bedtime Reads to Help You Drift Off

Looking for good bedtime reads to help you sleep?

A good book in bed can certainly help your eyes to flutter and your mind to turn away from the daily stresses of life. When you have a great page turnover, you’ll find yourself off in another land, primed for dreamtime.

However, it can be tough to find a good bedtime story that doesn’t get your heart racing. After all, you don’t want to thrill yourself into staying awake all night to keep reading.

Instead you need bedtime reads that calm the mind and relax the soul.

Here are our top bedtime reads to help you drift off quicker.

(Note. While we earn commission from the links in this article, we only recommend the products we truly believe will improve your sleep the most. These commissions come at no extra expense to you and help us to keep providing you with expert sleep information for free.)

How Do Good Bedtime Reads Help You Drift Off Faster? 

As a child, you were probably read bedtime stories by your parents. While most people take this for granted as “just something parents do,” the sleep science behind it is real.

According to sleep expert Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg, reading is one of the simplest ways to help people battle insomnia or frequent nighttime awakenings:

“Lying awake in bed awake in the dark is never a good idea“[Y]ou might begin to associate your bed with wakefulness, worry and frustration.”

Reading is a calm, pleasant activity that gradually fatigues your eyes and brain. It also distracts you from worries about not getting enough sleep.

While the type of book you read mostly depends on your preference, many sleep scientists agree you should not choose a thriller or anything that will keep you flipping page after page.

Audiobooks are also an excellent way to fall asleep quickly. Just like people often drift off in front of the TV, listeners of audiobooks find themselves growing drowsy as they listen to a tale in bed.

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Try These Excellent Bedtime Reads to Fall Asleep Quicker

Bedtime reads are fast, easy ways to fall asleep. Adding a little light reading before bed is a great way to improve sleep hygiene.

Pick up your book, e-reader, or audiobook at least 30 minutes or 1-hour before bed. Over time, this will train your brain to associate reading with sleep. You will soon find yourself able to fall asleep within minutes.

#1 – ‘Swing Time’ By Zadie Smith

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The fifth book by British author Zadie Smith, Swing Time follows the story of two young girls and their changing relationship from childhood through adulthood.

Set in both London and West Africa, this novel focuses on two girls who meet in dance class. Although they are from the same social class, their lives diverge as one stumbles upon incredible opportunities, while the other does not. 

Exploring themes of race, class divide, art, and cultural exploitation, Swing Time makes it easy for you to step into the minds of the protagonists, to understand the world through their eyes.

Smith is a popular author known for precise, simple prose. This makes it easy to read at bedtime, without straining your brain.

#2 – ‘The Largesse of the Sea Maiden’ by Denis Johnson

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The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is a short story collection by Denis Johnson.

Published after Johnson’s death, this book of fictional stories contemplates ghosts of the past and explores mysteries of the universe.

Johnson is known for gripping, thought-provoking words that feel hypnotic to the reader.

Fans of audiobooks will be especially thrilled. The stories in this collection are narrated by several well-known actors, such as Dermot Mulroney and Michael Shannon. Each actor speaks with a soothing cadence that will lull you straight to sleep.

Short stories are an especially effective sleep tactic. Because of their brief nature, you can fit one in before bed.

#3 – ‘Notes from A Small Island’ by Bill Bryson

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Notes from a Small Island is a nonfiction book by humor writer, Bill Bryson. 

After 20 years of living in Great Britain, Bryson and his family decided to move back to his native US. 

But before they left, Bryson wanted to visit every corner of his adopted British home.

Bryson’s travelogue details his talks with locals, observations of British culture, and thoughts on British history. 

Known for his witty and wry perspectives, this is a funny book that will help you relieve stress before going to bed. 

Bryson often finds himself in awkward, comical moments that will quickly make this one of your favorite bedtime books to read.

#4 – ‘The Water Dancer’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Ta-Nehisi Coates’ debut novel, The Water Dancer was chosen as one of Oprah Winfrey’s top reads in 2019. 

Known for her book recommendations, Oprah describes this book as, “[A]s beautiful as it is tragic.”

Based on real-life events and mixed with fantasy, The Water Dancer follows Hiram, a young boy born into slavery and gifted with superpowers.

Just like his bestselling memoir, Between the World and Me, Coates’s fictional story will bring you on a journey that is sure to lead you into vivid dreams. 

#5 – ‘Cutting for Stone’ by Abraham Verghese

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Set between Addis Ababa and New York City, Cutting for Stone is an incredible book about family, love, betrayal, medicine, and miracles.

The book focuses on two orphaned twins growing up in Ethiopia as the country heads towards a revolution. 

Raised in a hospital environment, the twins share a love of medicine, but their own moral compasses slowly tear them apart.

A medical doctor, author Abraham Verghese bases much of the medical procedures in the book off his own experience and knowledge. The narrative excellently blends the history of modern medicine together with Ethiopia’s political climate.

While the storyline keeps you captivated, the history-heavy narrative slowly winds you along the story, keeping you calm and rested as you head toward sleep.

#6 – ‘Persuasion’ By Jane Austen

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Persuasion was the last book written by Jane Austen. The novel was published posthumously, six months after Austen’s death.

Like most of her novels, Austen uses humor in Persuasion to comment on 19th century British society and gender norms.

The story centers on Anne Elliot, a young twenty-something woman whose family must move in order to get out of debt. To make money, the family rents their home to a Navy Admiral and his wife.

Now, as unattached adults, they find themselves forced to interact and consider whether to give their union a second chance.

Look out for the comedic twist about the brother of the Admiral’s wife.

A classic novel, this book is written in slightly older language. While the plot is gripping, the language can be a little tedious, helping you to fall asleep quicker.

#7 – ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt

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The Secret History is a great murder mystery to keep your guessing before bedtime.

Set mostly at an elite Vermont college, Donna Tartt’s first novel follows an exclusive, intellectual group of Classics students. 

When one of the group members winds up dead, you, the reader, are left wondering: whodunit?

While the answer to this question will keep you intrigued, Tartt’s lyrical sentences and easy-to-follow narrative will help battle insomnia or restless nights.

‘The Secret History’ is a large book. If you read it only in the evenings before bed, you can easily stretch it out over several months.

#8 – ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories’ by Flannery O’Connor

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If your preference for books leans towards strange occurrences and dark characters, A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories is for you.

Based partially on her real life growing up in the Deep South, O’Connor’s stories are so bizarre that she created her own genre: Southern Gothic literature.

Stories in this collection range from tales about baptisms to serial killers. Her themes typically focus on humanity and redemption.

Just like with Denis Johnson’s collection of stories, these fictional pieces are easy and quick to digest, making them a great choice for a pre-bedtime read.

In Summary

Reading is an excellent way to help you fall asleep.

The simple act of scanning the words on a page will tire your eyes and your brain. 

Remember to choose bedtime reads that are not too tense or suspenseful. 

Short story collections are great, quick options for settling yourself into a deep sleep.

People who suffer from stress and anxiety-induced insomnia will benefit greatly from adding a book to their nightly routine.
If physically holding a book or e-reader isn’t appealing to you and you’d like audio bedtimes reads, check out audiobook options.