5 Audible Books that Put Me to Sleep (in a Good Way)
When I got married five years ago, I dreaded being unable to sleep in the same bed as someone else. I’m a light sleeper and growing up, the only way I could fall asleep was with a huge box fan right next to my bed for the white noise. I’d long since weaned myself off the fan (no small feat), but still found it hard to sleep in anything but total silence–and even then.
My brother, also a light sleeper, suggested I try listening to audiobooks with tiny earbuds in as I fell asleep. At first I was skeptical but the very first night I tried, I was out like a light. By the time I got married, I was a pro at falling asleep.
For years, I assumed this was a quirky tendency only my brother and I shared (as quirkiness goes, we are pretty well endowed). Then I happened to mention the bedtime ritual to a friend.
“I do the same thing!” She exclaimed. “If it weren’t for Audible, I’d be an insomniac!”
Since then, I’ve found others who also rely on Audible to fall asleep at night–there’s a whole silent community of us adults listening to bedtime stories as we nod off.
What Makes a Good Bedtime Story?
But not every audiobook works for this purpose, I’ve learned. It also seems that different qualities work for different people. One friend of mine can only fall asleep to male voices, another to British accents. For some, a narrator with more of a monotone works best while others prefer more inflection or even multiple voices. I tend to cycle and recycle through the same audiobook for weeks–even months–on end (familiarity aids my ability to zone out and fall asleep), but others must be listening to something brand new.
Here are the general qualities I look for in an Audible bedtime story:
- A narrator with a smooth, even voice–usually female. My favorite is Jenna Lamia. I find too much monotone distracting, but an erratic or highly dramatic inflection is equally detrimental to sleep.
- A story that is pretty familiar but that I haven’t read in a while. Classics work well, because I often know the general arc of the story but am a little fuzzy on details.
- Nothing too funny or too sad. Neither laughing or crying are conducive to good sleep.
- Southern accents. There’s something about a good drawl I find very soothing.
But how do I manage to sleep with earbuds in?! Scroll to the end of this article for practical tips on how to fall asleep while listening to Audible books.
5 Audible Books That Put Me to Sleep (In a Good Way)
Written by: O. Henry
Narrated by: B.J. Harrison
This was the first audiobook I ever used to fall asleep. This was back before the Audible app had a sleep timer you could program to fade out after a certain amount of time so I was limited to books of durations between 30 and 60 minutes (I will wake up again if the audio keeps going after that). Clocking in at 34 minutes, this O. Henry duo helped me fall asleep nearly every night from roughly June 2014 until sometime in 2016. Now that the sleep timer feature gives me more options, I rarely go back to this one (in The Gift of the Magi, which comes second in the collection, there is a scene that gets rather loud and tends to wake me back up if I’ve fallen asleep). At the time, however, the calming and endearing quality of the stories along with the narrator’s slow cadence and soothing baritone were just what I needed to fall asleep–for two years on end. I recently recommended the book to my dad when he was dealing with insomnia and it helped him as well.
Written by: Frank Baum
Narrated by: Anne Hathaway
I’ve always loved both The Wizard of Oz and Anne Hathaway; the pairing of the two in this delightful rendering of Baum’s masterpiece is everything I would have loved to listen to as a child. Maybe that’s why it’s become a calming addition to my nocturnal listening repertoire, despite the fact that Hathaway’s voice acting is fairly dynamic and at times loud (at least for using as a bedtime story). I tend to listen to this audiobook not when I’m first going to sleep but when I awaken in the middle of the night and suspect it will be difficult falling back asleep–it’s a good story to keep company with in those dark and lonely nighttime hours, and it does usually put me to sleep.
Written by: Jane Austen
Narrated by: Emma Thompson, Joanne Froggatt, and others
I wouldn’t have thought this dramatized version of Jane Austen’s Emma would make a good bedtime story–typically, straight readings have the kind of audio consistency amenable to falling asleep–but that’s what it has become for me. I downloaded this the first month it came out in 2018 and after listening to it on a long trip, found myself craving it one night as I got into bed. Despite the dramatic quality of the audio (including musical interludes, a multitude of voices and moods) which might ordinarily keep my ears awake, I find it a comfortable book to fall asleep with. Perhaps this is because I’m already very familiar with the story, and many of the actors (especially Emma Thompson and Joanne Froggatt) are both familiar to and gentle on the ears.
Written by: Sue Monk Kidd
Narrated by: Jenna Lamia
As I mentioned, there’s something about a lilting Southern accent that puts me at ease enough to fall asleep. I might as well call this book old faithful; if I can’t fall asleep to it, I know I’m not going to fall asleep for anything. I could add to this list other books narrated by Jenna Lamia, including Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings. But these aren’t the only books with Southern accents that have put me to sleep…
Written by: Barbara Kingsolver
Narrated by: Dean Robertson
Though the Southern accent is strong and soothing in this book, The Poisonwood Bible is another somewhat unlikely candidate for a bedtime story given its heavy themes. Like all the books on this list, it deserves to be listened to and appreciated in its entirety as a work of literature before falling asleep to it. But I already happened to be familiar with it before I began listening to it as a bedtime story several years ago. In her narration, Dean Robertson (not to be confused with the more prolific narrator Robertson Dean) brings a calm counterpoint to Kingsolver’s sad but masterfully woven tale. Although the point of view of the novel switches between a handful of characters, Robertson’s voice does not change enough to be distracting.
Practical Tips for Falling Asleep with Audible Books
- Use compact earbuds that are big enough to block out other sounds but small enough to fit comfortably all the way inside your ear canal. This minimizes discomfort when you roll over or sleep on your side. Look for earbuds listed as “in-ear.” For years I’ve been using these cheapies by Samsung (if you use earbuds every night, you’ll have to clean and/or replace them more frequently–they’ll wear out or get dirty more quickly than usual).
- If you don’t like earbuds, SleepPhones are designed to use while falling asleep. These won’t work for me because I need the noise-canceling or -blocking ability of earbuds to fall asleep, but they may work for you.
- Experiment with setting the sleep timer on Audible at different durations to determine how long it takes you to fall asleep. Start with 30 minutes or 60 minutes and move up or down from there. If I don’t remember the next morning what was happening in the story when I fell asleep, and I don’t remember waking up to audio still on, I know I’ve hit the sweet spot. These days, that means setting the Audible sleep timer to 60 minutes. However, some people need to have the audio on all night to stay asleep–if that’s you, setting the sleep timer to 8 hours might be a good way to coax yourself asleep in the morning.
- Experiment with stories you are familiar with versus those you’ve never listened to–one or the other might work better for. Or try one of the classics–you might know the ending, but the particulars will still be interesting enough to listen to.
- Until you have a better sense of what narrators and qualities help you fall asleep, aim for books with single narrators (as opposed to dramatized versions with larger casts, music, or other dramatic effects that can prove distracting).
- If you are a very light sleeper and it helps to sleep with white noise, the Relaxio White Noise Generator app for Android will play a variety of ambient noises underneath other audio, like Audible. I turn on the “fan” sound on before I start my bedtime story for the night. I keep the sleep timer in Relaxio set for 8 hours–the white noise fading out in the morning acts as a gentle alarm clock.
- If you share bedtime with a spouse, initiate conversation before putting earbuds in. You might not hear anything they say after you start the audiobook, and that way your spouse won’t feel like you’re constantly shutting them out at bedtime.