Can’t sleep? Channel George Vanderbilt and indulge in some nighttime reading
George Vanderbilt’s home, Biltmore, in Asheville, North Carolina is a French Renaissance chateau comprising 250 rooms over 175,000 square feet. Among these rooms, the Library was his favorite. As a child he developed a passion for books, and by the age of 12 he began a journal , “Books I have Read”, to record his reading history.
His love for books continued throughout his lifetime and at the time of his death in 1914, Vanderbilt was reading an average of 81 books each year. He had stocked the Biltmore House Library with more than 22,000 volumes. Based on his collection and his journals, we can infer that some of his favorites (or at least most frequently read) authors were Honore de Balzac, Charles Dickens, Alphonse Daudet, William Dean Howells, Henry James, Charles Lever, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Makepeace Thackeray and Emile Zola.
He took the same approach with books as he did with the other precious objects in his home. They had to be beautiful, lovely to have and to hold. He used the finest bookbinders who sent him books bound in high quality Moroccan leather with gilt lettering and decoration – each one contained his personalized bookplate.
Vanderbilt’s lifelong devotion to reading = a healthy bedtime habit
Vanderbilt’s books not only made him one of the most well-read men in America, but may have also helped him enjoy healthy sleep on a regular basis. Stress can be a major roadblock to falling (and staying) asleep and a major benefit of reading is its ability to reduce cortisol levels, a stress hormone. The Better Sleep Council reports that people who read before bed profess to sleep more soundly and feel better able to cope mentally with challenges the next day.
Relaxation rituals are important when you’re calling it a day and getting ready for bed. Experts say that it’s essential to literally and figuratively unplug from the world. Turn off your phone, tablets and television an hour before you plan to sleep. When these devices are used too close to sleep, the blue light they emit energizes the brain instead of calming it. That light sends a wake-up signal, which delays sleep. While you might be tempted to read a novel on a screen, it won’t sooth your brain into relaxation like a hard copy book. If electronic reading before bed is a must, opt for a newer e-reader with a dimming feature to mitigate the impact of blue light.
If falling asleep is a consistent struggle for you, consider moving your reading time to a place other than your bed. Set up a cozy nook in your bedroom or find a peaceful spot in your home where you can read undisturbed – and move to your bed only when you’re ready for sleep.
Vanderbilt had many reading rooms to choose from and most were outfitted with wood-burning fireplaces. During the building of Biltmore, he even included a ‘quick access’ staircase to the Library from the second floor hallway of bedrooms for guests who were restless at night and wanted to find a book without having to traverse the Grand Staircase.
With such a strong interest in literature, it’s no surprise that Vanderbilt became good friends with several notable authors who visited during his lifetime. Paul Leicester Ford visited Biltmore four times between 1897 and 1900. His first visit in January of 1897 included him working on the manuscript for his novel Janice Meredith, which includes a dedication to George Vanderbilt. Henry James visited in February 1905. Edith Wharton visited twice, in 1902 and 1905.
Just as George Vanderbilt encouraged reading among his friends and family, you can do the same by creating cozy reading spaces in your home and advocating for an hour of wind-down before bedtime with a good book. You can also boost the sleep-enhancing effectiveness of your reading time by listening to soothing music and sipping on a cup of caffeine-free tea (chamomile is a good choice) or a glass of warm milk.
Better bedtime habits adopted by the Vanderbilts
There’s a lesson to be learned here. Embracing healthy bedtime habits, such as unplugging before bed, creating a nightly wind-down routine and crafting a sleep sanctuary can help ensure we sleep well at the end of each day.
When it was time to turn in for the night, the Biltmore housemaids took steps to create soothing sleep sanctuaries for guests. Heavy curtains blocked out any ambient light and beds were prepped with extra blankets and fluffy down-filled pillows. The bucolic country setting assured that bedrooms remained quiet throughout the night and into the morning. In urban settings, we can achieve peace by using a white-noise machine to block out any street noise and using thick drapes to help block light and sound.
The Vanderbilt family also understood the connection between sleep and exercise. Strolls in the fresh air were regular practice. There were also bicycles available – ideal for exploring the original property which spanned more than 125,000 acres. The estate was also equipped with an indoor heated pool, a state-of-the-art gymnasium and a bowling alley. Exercise is beneficial on many levels, however if it’s high intensity, complete it at least two hours before bedtime to allow your body to relax fully before hitting the hay.
More than a century ago, sleep quality was as important to the Vanderbilts as it is to us today. In our modern world, there are a number of research institutes focused on sleep and sleep associations (like The Better Sleep Council) that have helped move our knowledge base forward. Scientists have confirmed that sleep plays a vital role in health and, contrary to what was once thought, it’s not a time when the body is at complete rest. During sleep, our brains and bodies are busy doing critical repair and restoration work that keep us functioning and healthy.
Restonic’s Biltmore Mattress Collection is inspired by the Vanderbilts’ commitment to quality and comfort, each one designed to elevate the art of sleep. They understood the role that healthy, restorative sleep played in a life well lived. It’s a tradition worth celebrating every night.
Ready to find the Biltmore mattress that’s right for you and your commitment to a good night’s sleep? Visit our Retailer Locator and we’ll match you up with a retailer in your area.