7 Books About Insomnia to Distract You From Late-Night Dread

Lying awake at night? Lull yourself to sleep—or at least feel seen—with these stories about restlessness

Photo by Victor Restrepo

There are two ways people handle not being able to sleep––lie in bed staring up at your dark ceiling in an attempt to Pavlov your body into unconsciousness, or accept your fate and scroll through your phone in the hopes that its light will burn out your retinas. Maybe that second one’s just me. But we’ve all had our fair share of sleepless nights. This list ranges from the day-to-day experience of insomnia to imagined countries where no one can sleep, and from garden-variety sleeplessness to the world of dreams or sleep walking. Will these books cure you of insomnia? No. But they will distract you from something even worse: late night existential dread. 

Insomnia by Marina Benjamin

Insomnia by Marina Benjamin

More than a third of all adults experience insomnia and the number rises in those over sixty-five. Marina Benjamin writes on her personal experience with the condition and adds new dimensions to both our understanding of sleep, the night, and how we perceive darkness. In her usage of  literature, art, philosophy, psychology, pop culture, and more, Benjamin pays close attention in her musings to the relationship between women and sleep detailed throughout history. 

Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

Russell’s novella imagines a near future where hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost the ability to sleep. Trish Edgewater recruits for the non-profit Slumber Corp, which connects sleep donors to the needy afflicted. However, the discovery of the first universal donor, Baby A, lands Trish in a moral dilemma as the disease takes a terrifying turn and she discovers the secrets her employers have been keeping.

Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun

Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun

In another novel about the sleepless apocalypse, our narrator Biggs has just lost his wife Carolyn to an insomnia that is wreaking havoc across the nation. Sleep has become a precious commodity in this world. The telltale signs of red-rimmed eyes, slurred speech, and a clouded mind have yet to manifest in Biggs so he while he can still sleep and dream he sets out to find Carolyn–encountering others fighting against sleeplessness along the way. 

Image result for compass mathias enard

Compass by Mathias Enard 

Insomniac musicologist Franz Ritter takes to his sickbed and spends the entire night moving between dreams and memories, revisiting the span of his long life. At the heart of all these memories of his life-long fascination with the Middle East and the thinkers he admires is his elusive, unrequited love, Sarah, a fiercely intelligent French scholar.

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

After Dark by Haruki Murakami 

Nineteen-year-old Mari is reading in a Denny’s when she meets a young man who insists he knows her older sister–who has fallen into a deep sleep for the past few months–thus setting her on a late night odyssey through Tokyo. In the space of a single night, the lives of a diverse cast of Tokyo residents—hotel owners, prostitutes, mobsters, and musicians—collide in a world suspended between the surreal and the mundane. 

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

In an isolated Southern California college town, a freshman falls asleep in her dorm room and doesn’t wake up. Mei, her roommate, can’t rouse her, or the paramedics that carry her away, or even the doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, until a quarantine is announced.  The National Guard is contacted, classes are canceled, and stores run out of supplies. Why won’t the affected wake up, and what are they dreaming of?

The Day the Sun Died by Yan Lianke 

A fourteen-year-old boy named Niannian watches as one fateful night the residents of his small town deep in the mountains of Balou don’t go to sleep. They sleepwalk instead, at first carrying out their usual day-to-day activities like tilling fields and roaming the streets, before devolving into their baser impulses and growing increasingly violent. Niannian and his father work throughout the night to try to help their neighbors.

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