Sleep has only been an accepted field of study for 60 years. But scientists have certainly made up for lost time, making incredible strides and amassing a treasure trove of information about what happens when we bed down for the night.
The science of sleep is complex stuff — it does, after all, combine everything from neuroscience to psychology. In other words? It can be drier than a Stephen Wright standup special. Put in the right hands, however, and the topic can be as engrossing as you’re favorite beach read.
That’s why we assembled this list of eight must-read sleep books tailored toevery type of reader. From historical takes to head-to-toe looks at lucid dreaming to bedtime guidebooks for new parents, the selected reads should sate every type of sleeper out there.
Best For Anyone and Everyone: “The Sleepwatchers” by William Dement
William Dement founded the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic in 1975 and with it the field of modern sleep medicine. He served as president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which he also founded, for twelve years, in addition to three as chairman of Congress’s National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research. In other words: He knows what’s up. Any one of his books, from "The Promise of Sleep" to "The Stanford Sleep Book", is a must-read for anyone looking to brush up on the field. But "The Sleepwatchers" is notable for crafting a rare blend of memoir and scientific text, perfect for the generalist’s bookshelf or bedside table.
Best For Insomniacs: “Wide Awake: What I Learned About Sleep from Doctors, Drug Companies, Dream Experts, and a Reindeer Herder in the Arctic Circle” Patricia Morrisroe
Patricia Morrisroe — journalist, critic, editor five-star insomniac — confronted her afflication by voraciously learning everything there was to know about it. She spoke with sleep scientists, drug researchers, psychotherapists, hypnotherapists, anthropologists, a reindeer herder and an astronaut in her quest to understand the condition plaguing tens of millions of people worldwide. Her conclusion? It’s, uh, pretty complicated. But her journey is a joy to follow.
Best For History Buffs: “The Slumbering Masses” by Matthew Wolf-Meyer
Like other writers, anthropologist Matthew Wolf-Meyer is interested in the ways capitalism has eroded our cultural appreciation of sleep. “The Slumbering Masses” is a monumental investigation into this effect, combining ethnography and history with a few doses of biography and cultural criticism. He argues that although the notion of “normal” sleep is a relatively recent phenomenon (he dates it back to the 19th century), people, or at least Americans, were concerned about managing their sleep schedules as early as the colonial era. Back then, he writes, regular sleep was a means of escaping Satan’s clutches; too bad capitalism came along and did the devil’s work for him. Oh well.
Best For Athletes: “Sleep to Win!,” by James Maas and Haley Davis
Hey. Hey you. Do you want to win? Damn right you do. Penned by a psychologist and the researcher who coined the term “power nap”, “Sleep To Win!” is loaded with actionable tips drawn from sleep studies and performance research. Unlike other (okay, most) self-help books, this one is styled not as a lecture but as an actual narrative, following Philadelphia Flyers athlete Mike Greenza as he seeks to revitalize his sleep schedule over the course of a hockey season.
Best For Creative-Types: The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists, and Athletes Use Their Dreams for Creative Problem Solving-And How You Can Too, by Deirdre Barrett
The phrase “committee of sleep” harkens back to John Steinbeck, who wrote that “It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.” Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist and Harvard professor, has found that Steinbeck was right — sleep is indeed a crucial ingredient in the creative life. From Kubla Khan to Jasper Johns and Mary Shelley to Ingmar Bergman, Barrett demonstrates that one’s dreaming life is more than a source of relaxation and escape; often, it is the furnace powering our greatest waking achievements.
Best For Lucid Dreamers: “Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming” by Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheingold
A pioneer in the field of lucid dream research, Stephen LaBerge developed some of the most popular dream inducement techniques. “Exploring the World…” draws on his own research, conducted at Stanford University, as well as the centuries-old practice of Tibetan dream yoga. If you’re curious about lucid dreaming and want one of the leading experts to be the Virgil for your journey, then look no further.
Best For New Parents: ”Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child,” Marc Weissbluth
From the author of such titles as “Your Fussy Baby” and “6 Sleep Problems and Solutions”, “Healthy Sleep Habits” is a comprehensive manual for sleep-training your newborn. A few previews: Infants should be put to bed as soon as they show signs of sleepiness; although few will sleep longer than two or three hours in one sitting, earlier bedtimes (or, given infant sleep schedules, naptimes) promote longer periods of sleep. Parents of slightly older children might consider “The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep,” a bedtime fable designed to hypnotically induce drowsiness.
Best For Dreamers “The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream” by Andrea Rock
In ye merry days of olde, dreams were attributed to divine inspiration or bad digestion. We’ve come a long way, though we still know very little: Serious dream research is a young and startling small field, as journalist Andrea Rock discusses in The Mind at Night. In eleven breezy chapters, she traces the science of dreams from the now-defunct theories of Freud and Jung to the modern sleep lab, investigating why we feel dreams so intensely, why sometimes we remember only fleeting images, and — most important of all — what we can learn from the spiny anteater.