This Best-Selling Author Wrote an Entire Book on the Power of Sleep

We interview Katherine May on her all-star bedtime routine.

sleeping
Image: Minh Pham via Unsplash

Sleep is sometimes taken for granted. With so many of us holed up at home, we don’t tend to think back to the days when we wish we were getting more rest. Work, school, relationships, stress, motherhood … it’s a lot to take in when you have to be a million places at once. Trust us, there are plenty of people who agree, including the best-selling author of Wintering, Katherine May. Katherine’s book is part of Penguin Random House’s Read to Sleep book list and initiative to bring light to reading in the evening as part of a wellness routine. We sat down with her for an interview to discuss her own bed-time routines, her favorite books at night time, and her new novel, Wintering which is about her own struggles through the winter months. She felt low and down, dealt with her own insomnia, but found the power to push through with rest and retreat. Keep reading for the interview.

Sleep
Katherine May

What is the last thing at night you do before you go to bed?

Lip balm, hand cream (including elbows, always), and a slug of water. I’m clearly very concerned about overnight hydration!

What time do you go to bed and what time do you wake up?

People laugh when I tell them this: 9:30 pm. That’s because I like to get up at 5 am to write, and I’ve always been useless after 8 pm anyway. I really am a morning person.

sleep
Image: Courtesy of Katherine May

Are there any soothers or herbal supplements you use to help you sleep, CBD, etc.?

Sometimes I have a cup of mint and thyme tea before bed. I don’t know if it actually makes me sleepy, but it always smells slightly narcotic. In desperation, I sometimes have a hot toddy: whisky, lemon, honey, and hot water.

sleep
Image: Anita Jankovic via Unsplash

What is your routine/ritual for when you can’t sleep or have insomnia?

I’m incredibly careful to avoid it in the first place: no caffeine after 2 pm and no emails or social media after 7 pm. But when I can’t sleep, I usually get up and read, or I write down all my thoughts in a notebook. There’s usually unfinished business rolling around my head, so I add it to my to-do list for the next day. When I travel, I usually bring my own pillow, which helps a lot.

What would I find on your nightstand or bedside table of a night?

Water and Burt’s Bees Pomegranate lip balm. Oh and also my mouth guard, which stops me from grinding my teeth (surely my least attractive habit). The shelf underneath is always full of children’s books, because that’s where I read to my son before he goes to sleep. They tend to pile up, along with old copies of his Phoenix comic.

sleep
Image courtesy of Katherine

Do you read any books before you go to bed and if so, which ones?

I often curl up on the sofa in the evening and read while I settle down after my day. In my book, Wintering, I talk about my love of ambulatory reading—a chapter here, a poem there, a few works hunted down in an index, and re-reading for the comfort of the familiar. I’ve recently been returning to Robin Wall-Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, which is the perfect slow read. (If you’re looking for short before-bed reads, I love a load of books in this Read to Sleep list!)

What’s the best sleep advice you’ve ever been told that worked?

When I was researching Wintering, I learned that my habit of waking for a couple of hours in the middle of the night would have been considered entirely normal before the Industrial Revolution. Since then, when I wake, I just get up and do something quietly in low light – most often meditating or reading while drinking rooibos tea. It’s like finding an extra corner in your day, and it takes all the panic out of being unable to sleep.

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