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Audio bedtime stories…for grownups

audiobooksIn this week’s Family Reading post “Go to sleep, my little darling,” Kristy Pasquariello discusses how audiobooks help her young children settle down and prepare to sleep. I read her thoughts with interest: in addition to lots of daytime listening, I’ve been using audiobooks at bedtime for years, beginning long after childhood.

Just like Kristy and her family, I had to do some trial and error for bedtime listening, but here’s what works for me. I hope you find it useful, too!

Listen to something you’ve already read — and/or already listened to.
My all-time favorite books for bedtime are also my all-time favorite books, period; I have both read and listened to these books numerous times. When I revisit these books at bedtime, I find them engaging enough to quiet my own monkey mind, but the burning need to know what happens next is taken out of the equation, so I’m not invested enough that I’m kept awake. Another bonus is that I can pop in and out of a book at any point without missing a crucial part of the story. Some of my go-to audiobooks for sleep are Neil Gaiman’s American Gods read by George Guidall, the Harry Potter series read by Jim Dale, Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom Chronicles read by Tim Curry (and later by Heather Wilds), and Tana French’s The Secret Place read by Stephen Hogan and Lara Hutchinson.

Figure out which types of genres and narrators relax you.
Not every genre you like generally is going to be sleep-friendly. I love murder mysteries by authors such as Gillian Flynn and Tana French, for example, but those types of narratives aren’t always conducive to restful sleep. (That doesn’t always stop me when a book is really good and well narrated, though; see The Secret Place mention above.)

Some narrators’ voices or production formats are more energizing than relaxing. I tend to find British or Irish narrators most soothing. For my taste, audiobooks with more than two narrators — especially full-cast, audio drama–type productions — are too busy for bedtime.

You’ll have to do some experimenting (and know your unsettling-dream threshold) to see what works for you.

Try other types of audio, too.
Audiobooks are my favorite, but sometimes I do like to switch it up. Podcasts can be a good option, depending on the hosts, topic, and format, e.g., narrative- versus conversation-based. The “Sleep with Me” podcast is specifically designed for listening to at bedtime, with the same premise as my “listen to a book you already know” advice: it provides silly stories engaging enough to distract you from your thoughts, but (intentionally) boring enough to send you off to sleep. Creator/host Drew Ackerman gradually makes his voice softer and more lulling throughout each episode. Meditations and mindfulness exercises, white noise, and, of course, soothing music are excellent resources for bedtime audio as well.

Use the right tools.
My favorite option for sleepytime listening is a speaker pillow. Obviously that has drawbacks if you share a room, so I’ve also tried a fleece speaker headband (which was great, at least until the wires got yanked out by my tossing and turning). Lately I’ve been using sleep earbuds, which are so teeny that I can barely feel them when my ear is against the pillow.

At one point I had an Audible account, which is fantastic but can be pricey. I find Overdrive, an app for borrowing e-books and digital audiobooks from your local library, invaluable. It’s free — and since the files download directly to your device, then automatically delete when your loan expires, there’s no trip to the library or overdue fines. (Hoopla is similar.) The sleep-timer function of Overdrive and many other audiobook and music apps comes in really handy.

For even more on audiobooks, including recommendations, click here. Happy lizzzztening!

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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