I was a literary snob. The idea of listening to an audiobook instead of reading seemed like a copout. I love holding a book, listening to the rustle when I turn the pages, smelling the musty, chocolate, woody smell of an older copy or the crisp, novel spell of a newer one. So, when women in "my" book club talked about listening to audiobooks in the car or at home, I dismissed the prospect as something akin to rushing through Cliff Notes.
My opinion changed earlier this year, before the Pandemic, when flying was still the preferred mode of travel to places far and wide, and my husband and I flew to Leon, Mexico, and then by van to San Miguel de Allende. I begrudgingly download a few audiobooks to lighten my load. Packing books was not an option because my suitcase tipped the scale at close to the fifty-five-pound limit. I'd already tossed two sweaters and a pair of shoes.
My first listen was to Let The Great World Spin, Colum McCann's breakout bestseller. I settled onto a comfy couch on the third-floor terrace with a stellar view of the whole of San Miguel, donned my earbuds, and hit Play. McCann's story begins with amazed spectators staring skyward as Philippe Petit walked the tightrope between New York's Twin Towers in 1974--the same towers that were demolished in 2001 when Al-Queada terrorists smashed into them. McCann weaves his narrative around characters who either witnessed or heard about Petit's unimaginable feat. The audiobook features six narrators, each one reading in the voice of one of these characters.
I was hooked. The book came alive.
I fell asleep.
Right in the middle of something important. I had dozed off, but the narration kept rolling. By the time I "came to," I'd missed a complete chapter. I was lost. And surprised. I hadn't been tired before I started listening, yet I fell asleep. A one-time event, I was certain.
But then it happened a second time and then a third. And not with just with McCann's book but with all the audiobooks that followed. It didn't seem to matter where I was--relaxing on the terrace, in bed, sitting straight up in a chair. There was something about listening to audiobooks that put me to sleep. In a good way, at the perfect time.
So, what made audiobooks so effective in helping me and, I assume many others, fall asleep? My first theory is that listening to an audiobook is like listening to a parent read a bedtime story. Subconsciously, we are transported back to a time when we felt safe, supported, and loved. And if the parent or babysitter read softly, only raising her voice slightly for emphasis, it's common for a kid to fall asleep before THE END or to fall off to Never Never Land minutes later. (My son, not so much. Maybe an audiobook would have done the trick.)
Surely, I'm not the only one who has begun using audiobooks as sleep aids that, in my mind, work a hell of a lot better than Melatonin or any prescribed drug. I've had a script for Clonazepam, a drug often prescribed for both anxiety and sleep. Truthfully, I've taken it many times over the years. But when a doctor recently told me that too much Clonazepam could possibly hamper one's memory, I dumped the remaining pills. The last thing we senior women need is to mess with our memories! A few weeks ago, I couldn't string together a conversation. I lost my place. What was I saying? It was damn scary, not an experience I care to repeat. (As an aside, I've started taking the extract from the mushroom called Lion's Mane after seeing the documentary "Fantastic Fungi." This particular mushroom could protect against dementia. I'm all about that!)
What are some of the other reasons why audiobooks can help us sleep? Well, they can wean sleepers off of blue light disturbances like social media, TV, or other sleep zapping mediums. They could also help distract us from the worries of everyday life, allowing us to relax. I don't know about you but, in these disturbing times, I'll try to relax any way I can.
In a post on sleepadvisor.com (November 2, 2018), the writer Anoife Hanna suggests the kinds of books that may put you to sleep more successfully than others.
Familiarity — a book that won't have you wide awake desperate to find out what happens. You already know, but it is so great you are here for more.
Flowery language — think lovely, lolling, languid language that has you following those ZZZs like a cartoon animal following a tasty smell.
Magic — your dreams are about to be lit.
NOT scary — hell no to night terrors.
Narrated beautifully — yes, you want a soothing voice to drift off to, maybe even a familiar one.
In a piece written by Nicole Roccas, she talked about her experiences with audiobooks and sleep.
As we began to listen, I found myself feeling like a little kid tucked securely into bed while Dad read to me.
The audiobook re-focused my attention — my anxieties about living in New York and missing my family seemed to get lost in the story. Soon, I was fast asleep.
It is 9 years later, and there is rarely a night that I fall asleep without an audiobook.
Pierce Alquist writes in a piece for bookriot.com that:
"For me, an audiobook just takes the edge off when I’m trying to fall asleep. I’m a light sleeper and when I’m listening to an audiobook I’m less likely to be startled awake by a car alarm or door slam than if I was falling asleep in relative silence. And I’m not thinking about my day or my to-do list because I’m listening to the book. I’m probably not absorbed in it, but that’s perfect. I don’t want to stay up reading! The audiobook smooths out all of the edges that, for me, come with falling asleep, the distractions and anxieties, and nudges me gently off to sleep."
I'm pretty sure authors aren't thrilled to hear that audiobooks put readers to sleep. That doesn't bode well for writers who have spent possibly years writing and marketing and doing whatever they can to get their book reviewed. And sold!
Truth is: authors make sales from audiobooks as well as from hardcovers and softcovers. It's a coup if a publisher can contract an experienced narrator or an author can foot the bill herself. And if listeners are anything like me, they either take a quick snooze or a good night's sleep and then jump back in listening with even more excitement and curiosity.
I'm dragging today. I think I'll put in my earbuds and settle down to listen to the audiobook I downloaded earlier. I'm hoping I'll enjoy the book and catch a much-needed snooze.