Falling in Love to Fall Asleep: How Romance Audiobooks Saved My Bedtime Routine

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Laura Sackton

Senior Contributor

Laura Sackton is a queer book nerd and freelance writer, known on the internet for loving winter, despising summer, and going overboard with extravagant baking projects. In addition to her work at Book Riot, she reviews for BookPage and AudioFile, and writes a weekly newsletter, Books & Bakes, celebrating queer lit and tasty treats. You can catch her on Instagram shouting about the queer books she loves and sharing photos of the walks she takes in the hills of Western Mass (while listening to audiobooks, of course).

I’ve always had trouble falling asleep. I don’t have insomnia, but it’s never been an easy process. I have friends who get in bed and close their eyes and just…drift off? I’ve never understood this process, because for me, falling asleep has always been a long, sometimes arduous process. It’s rarely fast and sometimes it’s downright impossible.

I’ve tried so many things over the years to make it easier. Giving myself a strict bedtime. No looking at screens after a certain time. No phone in the bedroom. I’ve tried watching comforting movies. I’ve tried having a specific bedtime book that is soothing and/or just boring enough to put me into sleep-mode. Once I tried turning off all the overhead lights after 8pm, using only lamplight and candlelight in the hours before bedtime. I have written down everything that’s stressing me out before getting into bed in an effort to prevent my brain from spiraling.

Some of these things have worked, to a degree. It definitely helps not to look at the internet before bed. It also definitely helps to have a routine of some kind, a clear demarcation between awake time and going-to-sleep time. But despite all the information I’ve gathered over the years, and some progress here and there, I’ve never had a sleep routine that actually felt sustainable and successful until now. I’m about a month in, and to say that this new bedtime routine is miraculous is an understatement.

Here’s the thing about me: I can’t fall asleep while I’m doing anything else. Have you ever fallen asleep during a movie? Yeah, I never have. It does not matter how exhausted I am. I can get in bed with my laptop and put on a show and feel my eyes closing as I slowly lose all understanding of what’s going on on the screen. But I won’t fall asleep. And I can’t just shut the laptop and put it on my bedside table, either, because then my brain will fixate on how it’s just sitting there, in a place it doesn’t belong, with a browser still open.

No. I need the browser to be closed and I need the laptop to go back on my desk, plugged in for the night, where it belongs. This requires getting up and out of bed and turning on the light and going into a different room and by the time I’ve done all that, I’m awake again. This applies to almost anything that I’m doing in bed before I’m actually sleeping. If I’m reading on an iPad, I need to get up and put it back where it goes when I’m done with it. Books are easier, because they actually do live on my bedside table. But I still need to turn out the light. I don’t know why my brain works this way, but it does. The majority of soothing bedtime activities are canceled out by the effort it takes to finish them.

I cannot fathom why it took me so long to realize that audiobooks might be the solution to my bedtime woes, but I’m not going to dwell on that. I’ve found them, and it’s a game changer.

First of all: the mechanics! I plug in my phone on the kitchen counter where it lives overnight. I put in my earbuds and hit play. I get in bed and turn off the lights. No need to bring my phone into the bedroom with me. No reason to get up when I feel myself getting so tired I can’t concentrate on the words anymore. All I have to do is take out my earbuds and slip them back into their waiting case on my bedside table. I don’t even have to open my eyes. The book automatically stops. It’s seamless.

Then there’s the beauty of listening to romance as I fall asleep: I know what’s going to happen. I don’t know the specifics, but I know that it’s all going to end happily. Even if I’m not paying close attention, I can still enjoy the book. There aren’t any complicated plot twists to follow or tons of characters to keep track of. For years I read romance in print before bed and while I was on the right track, it never actually helped me fall asleep. Listening to romance audiobooks works perfectly for my particular brain and its everything-in-its-place needs, but it’s also like falling asleep while sometime tells you a soothing (and yes, often sexy) bedtime story. What could be better?

As is often the case when I incorporate books into my life in new ways, my new romance audio bedtime routine has also improved my reading life. I love angsty romance best. Give me romance with a side of murder, lots of intense emotional conflict, massive mistakes (how will they ever fix it?!) and all the drama. But these aren’t the best romances for falling asleep, because they are hard to stop reading.

So now I read my angsty romance bread-and-butter by day, and listen to soft, gentle, low-angst romance before bed. I’ve always been a little envious of people who love this kind of romance—it sounds good in theory but in practice I’m usually bored by it. Turns out, I was just reading it in the wrong context. My last bedtime listen was Never Been Kissed by Timothy Janovsky. Sure, there’s a little angst, but by my standards, it’s very tame. It took me almost three weeks to read because I listened to maybe 10-15 minutes a night. It was perfect! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I’m listening to D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding by Chencia C. Higgins. It’s light on conflict and high on silly reality show nonsense and sweet, communicative relationship building. In other words: the ideal bedtime listen.

If I’d read either of these books in a different context I probably would have felt meh about them. But because I’ve figured out why and how and when I want to read books like this, I am nothing but thrilled that they exist. I now have nothing but fondness for them and am eager for more.

Maybe you can fall asleep with the light on and a book in your hands. I’m aware my own specific bedtime requirements are not universal. Yes, I’m sleeping better than I have in years, but that’s not the only gift my new romance on audio routine has brought me. The other gift is universal—a reminder that books can influence our lives in unusual, beautiful, and sometimes practical ways, often when we least expect it.