Never would I dream of telling you not to read before bed. Reading oneself to sleep is the only way some of us can successfully slip into dreamland, and it’s a glorious tradition not to be trifled with.
But beware. This relaxation technique can backfire so hard that you will find yourself unable to close your eyes, much less sleep. Heed this list as a warning of the types of books and articles to stay away from before sinking your head into the pillow.
Let’s start with the obvious.
If you’re reading It, Pet Sematary, or any other book by Mr. King (or his son Joe Hill for that matter), you must just really hate sleeping. Otherwise, you like dreaming about giant spiders or murderous undead cats scratching at your window. Someone in my family got so freaked out by ‘Salem’s Lot that she literally kept it in the freezer when she wasn’t reading it. #RightIdea
Sleep with one eye open.
There are few worse things to read before bed than accounts of real-world psychos. Books like Helter Skelter may have you locking yourself into an airtight, stuffy house, bracing yourself for an onslaught of violent hippies. Even well-researched journalistic accounts can send villains with TEC-9s blasting their way through your dreams, as they did mine when I read Dave Cullen’s Columbine. Trust me. Running from real-world monsters is not how you want to spend your REM cycle.
Don’t meet your heroes.
Learning about the racism, sexism, criminal history, or just plain bizarre behavior of people you have idolized from afar is disturbing enough to make you toss and turn. An NSFW example: James Joyce’s love letters. I won’t link you straight to them because you might be reading this before bed, but I’ll link you to Kate Beaton’s Hark, a Vagrant comic about her own sleepless night after discovering them. Unless you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into, beware late-night investigations into your literary heroes.
Most of the Old Testament is terrifying.
Think cracking open your old confirmation Bible will bring comfort and joy to combat insomnia? Do so at your own risk. Much in the way James Joyce’s letters can be a nasty surprise, the sterner books of the Bible are chock-full of gore and bodily fluids of all kinds. You especially don’t want to run across that whole incident with the teenagers getting mauled by bears. That is, unless stories like that relax you (slowly backs away).
It’s not the time to get good and mad.
We are told to avoid too much social media before bed not only because blue light from our devices can confuse our biorhythms. The avoidance also keeps us from eleventh-hour adrenaline rushes from bad news, annoying political memes, or clickbait articles that unmask the latest rude restaurant patron or power-tripping high school administrator. Books can get us just as riled up. Reading a polarizing book of philosophy or a memoir of injustice, such as Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, can keep you up for hours, feeling frustrated and ineffective. Books like these are important when we want to feed our brains, but maybe just include some buffer time before hitting the sack.
For the record, I have regularly ignored every bit of the advice above. If I weren’t a slave to my own literary whims, I would follow the rules above, but alas, my sleep is often disrupted by my reading habits. Listen to the voice of experience, and perhaps you will have better luck than me.