Reading before going to bed is a longstanding tradition. As the saying goes, you never go to bed alone if you have a book in hand. An increasing number of studies show that reading can help you sleep more soundly in the night.
It is an excellent form of brain exercise. Just like how running gives you that “runner’s high,” reading gives your brain a healthy mental boost. When you use your brain, it becomes more capable of performing the functions required for proper sleep.
Anybody who reads at night before going to bed will tell you that it works. Unfortunately, our busy lifestyles do not make reading a priority – even if you enjoy books. With so much going on, it feels like reading takes more work than scrolling through social media or watching TV. However, just reading for 10 minutes every night can make a massive difference to your quality of sleep.
Whether you’re reading a thriller or a classic novel, reading is a practical way of locking in more hours of sleep each night. Besides, no matter how busy life gets, we all have 10 minutes to spare at the end of the day. If you have difficulty falling asleep most days or want a mental workout, here are some of the good reasons why nighttime reading can be a vital asset to your sleep routine.
Does Reading at Night Help You Sleep?
Most of us have already heard that reading before going to sleep can help you transition smoothly to peaceful slumber – but is this true or it is just an age-old tradition?
1) Helps Reduce Stress
One study from the University of Sussex found that reading did a much better job at reducing stress than many other relaxing activities.
Findings show that reading is:
- 68% more effective at reducing stress levels than listening to music
- 300% more effective than going for a walk
- 100% better than sipping on tea
- 700% better than playing a video game
Reading for just 6 minutes can reduce stress by 60% as it helps ease your muscle tension and slows your heart rate, changing your overall state of mind. Since insomnia is a typical result of prolonged stress, nighttime reading can allow racing, negative thoughts to subside, thereby calming your mind.
Reading a good book is also a distraction for your mind from your daily troubles that cause mental and physical tension. When you read a story, you’re giving your mind the opportunity to be somewhere else for that moment, helping you leave your worries behind.
According to The Sleep Council, 39% of people who have bedtime habit of reading before sleep, report achieving adequate sleep. The fact that it allows the muscles to relax and your heart rate to slow down indicates that it’s much easier to achieve quality rest.
2) Better Alternative to Watching TV
In addition to helping you calm your mind and unwind when you read, you’re reducing the amount of time you spend in front of a screen. Cell phones, TVs, laptops, and tablets, emit artificial blue light. Blue light is a type of light that is also found naturally in sunlight.
Our sleep is influenced by external cues, such as light and dark. The human body is designed to sleep at night, and rise in the day. When it is dark, the body releases melatonin, which is a hormone that induces sleep. Bright conditions suppress the release of melatonin, allowing us to wake up. Therefore, the blue light released from your cellphones or tablets slows down the production of melatonin in the body, causing you to stay up all night.
Excessive exposure to artificial blue light also promotes stress, causing troubling thoughts to keep you up till late in the night. Looking at your cell phone every day before going to bed can also put you at risk for insomnia and other sleep issues.
Therefore, leave your screen on your dresser and pick up a book before going to bed to enjoy a peaceful night’s rest.
3) Better Dreams
For most of us, our dreams are reflections of things that happened during the day. However, most readers will tell you that their dreams are often about the worlds in a story or characters in a novel they read about before going to bed. Not only is reading an effective workout for the brain, but it also feeds your dreams and nourishes them.
4) Addition to Your Sleep Schedule
According to the National Sleep Foundation, reading or making some herbal tea is beneficial for sleep. Why not just do both? Having a nighttime ritual, such as making a cup of herbal tea, making your bed and reading a good book are excellent cues that signal your brain that it is time to sleep.
5) Enables the Body Shutdown Smoothly
Experts believe that spending the last hour before going to sleep performing a calming activity is an effective way to help the body wind down. However, it helps to be more selective with books if your goal is to achieve better sleep.
Genres such as thriller and horror can keep you up all night long, and some books are just hard to put down because you want to know what happens next. Your best bet: pick up classic literature.
What Are the Other Benefits of Reading Before Bed?
According to research by the Pew Research Center, around 25% of American adults had not read even a single book. However, by skipping reading, we’re missing out on its cognition-boosting, stress-busting, and creativity-enhancing benefits. People who regularly read also show greater mental functioning and memory during any stage of life. Such people are also deeper thinkers and better public speakers.
Most of us have commitment phobia. While we can skim and scan and browse at ease, reading can often seem like a chore. However, when our eyes are going back and forth, scrolling through social media, watching funny GIFs, or skimming for keywords, our brains are rarely deeply processing what we see. For example, the average time people take to read an online article is just 15 seconds.
Reading is a powerful workout for the brain. Therefore, its benefits are beyond reducing stress and promoting better sleep. Fact or fiction, as long as your brain is fully digesting the material you’re reading; better mental strength and functioning can be guaranteed. It’s more than a simple distraction, its something that actively engages your mind and imagination, allowing you to visit a different state of consciousness.
The following are some benefits of reading that will convince even the busiest and most book-averse individuals into including reading into their bedtime routines.
6) Boosts Brain Power
Reading opens your eyes to a variety of worlds and lives of individuals, which can have an impact on your brain power. Your brain is another muscle in your body. Just like you need to lift weights to strengthen your arm muscles, you have to read to keep your brain healthy.
Compared to processing images on the internet, watching TV, or speaking, reading is considered more neurologically stimulating. Reading causes certain parts of the brain that are designed for specific functions, such as language, associative learning, and vision to interact through a neural circuit. This stimulates aspects of your consciousness, doing some heavy lifting for the brain and giving it a challenging workout.
7) Reduces the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
The National Institute on Aging recommends that adults read consistently to strengthen their brain performance.
Although Alzheimer’s isn’t a preventative disease, having certain habits can help support mental functioning, which may be tied to lowering risk of degenerative brain diseases. Any activity that stimulates the mind can protect you against Alzheimer’s.
According to a study conducted by Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, people who regularly engage their brains in stimulating activities such as reading, playing chess and solving puzzles, are 2.5 times less likely to be affected by cognitive diseases. This could be explained by the fact the degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s are often connected to patients with reduced brain activity.
Therefore, reading does not only improve your sleep and state of mind now, but it can also have a solid impact on your health in the future.
8) Enhances Creativity
Not surprisingly, reading from a stimulating cue also boosts your creative strength. Reading allows you to look at things from varied perspectives, allowing you to broaden your mind and overall thinking. Many successful entrepreneurs choose to read anything before bedtime because it makes them more creative and passionate about their projects. By looking at things from a brand new perspective, you begin to see situations, people, and problems with greater originality and creativity.
We all know that reading is linked to improved vocabulary, better verbal skills and greater knowledge in general. Bedtime stories can have a massive impact on a child’s sleep and cognition, therefore, reading to kids is vital for their upbringing. On average, children have exposure to 50% more words when they read books, compared to watching TV. Bedtime reading is not only an excellent way to elevate your child’s vocabulary, without it appearing as a lesson – it’s also an enjoyable way of boosting your own on a daily basis.
9) Impact of Dreaming on Creativity
By now, you should have no doubt that reading promotes quality sleep, which in turn boosts your creativity. Sleeping is a complex science that involves two major sleep cycles that keep alternating: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. You start with NREM, which is light sleep that deepens progressively, during which time your breathing and heart rate slow down, your muscles relax and your temperature falls.
About 90 minutes into your sleep, you begin to experience your REM cycle, during which your respiration, heart rate, and brain activity increase. This is when you dream. When you dream, the stop lights of your imagination are removed and your creativity and problem-solving ability skyrocket. This was demonstrated by a University of California study that asked participants to solve a type of word puzzle, called a remote association test (RAT).
Participants were given three words, from which they had to figure out the fourth word that tied them together. The test was done in two sessions, between which volunteers were asked to take a 40-minute nap. While some rested and dozed within that period, others dived into deeper stages of REM sleep. Results showed that participants who entered REM showed a 40% improvement in solving their puzzles.
This explains why it’s so common to sleep on a problem and allow it to sort itself out during our slumber. Sleep sharpens your brain’s ability to think creatively and solve problems more efficiently. When we dream, our dopamine levels rise in the regions of the brain associated with pleasure. This functions as a reward that keeps ideas, dreams and your creative juices flowing.
10) Makes You More Empathetic
Empathy refers to the ability to share and understand the feelings of another individual. Reading allows you to look at an entirely different world from different lenses. You see the world through another person’s eyes and feelings and experience their emotions with them. Reading regularly gives you enough practice to apply this skill in the real world.
Therefore, reading does not only make you smarter, but it also increases your emotional intelligence and makes you more understanding of other people’s feelings. This helps enhance your personal and work relationships.
11) Improves Your Focus
Continually scrolling through social media, watching TV and trying to keep up with everything going on around you can severely diminish your focus. Think about it, we never actually concentrate on one thing when we are on our phones. However, when you read, you don’t have any visual aids that are typically present when you look at your smartphone or computer. You have to use your imagination to visualize the world in your book.
This trains your brain to digest information and improve its focus. It can help improve your concentration while you come up with a to-do list for the next day, or during work.
If you don’t exercise your muscles enough, over time, you will begin to lose their mass. The same goes for reading. If you don’t use your focus using stimulating activities, such as reading, it will begin to lessen as you age.
12) May Improve Mild Mental Health Problems
Most people with mental health issues, report having anxiety and depression. Reading reduces stress and helps you sleep more soundly at night, thereby alleviating symptoms of mild anxiety and depression.
13) Reduces Cortisol Levels
A little bit of cortisol in the body isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our bodies naturally produce cortisol during our sleep as it helps people wake up in the morning. However, this doesn’t change the fact that cortisol is a stress hormone and can negatively affect your body if it stays at high levels, as a result of chronic stress.
High cortisol levels can cause depression, chronic fatigue, metabolic issues, weight gain and digestive problems. Reading before going to sleep is an excellent way of lowering your cortisol levels, and thus reducing stress. When your body is low in cortisol, it’s more likely that it will rest more peacefully in the night and handle the next day’s stresses more productivity and calmly.
14) A Nighttime Reading Habit Can Help You Read More Books
Reading increases your literary consumption. Most Americans don’t read a lot of books per year. Try being different by reading every night before going to sleep, even if you can only set aside 10 minutes for it. Dedicating time just for reading only ensures that you’re close to finishing your month’s reading list, allowing you to read more books every month and every year, compared to most adults.
Relaxing Things to Read Before Bed
If you’re not an avid reader and need some help falling asleep fast, try reading something that may appear boring to you. Remember how easy it was to doze off while reading Moby Dick during your High School days? Although not necessarily boring, reading literary classics are an excellent way to induce sleep, especially if you have insomnia.
It’s not really what you’re reading that promotes sleep, it just that being in a quiet, comfortable position, where you can enter a different world causes drowsiness to exert itself. But being smart with your book choices can help you fall asleep faster. Of course, the type of literature that causes people to sleep better at night differs from one person to the other. However, there is no shortage of books where nothing appears to be happening.
Most people choose books that entertain them. If the book doesn’t keep them entertained, they are not having a great time. Your brain is already tired by the end of the day, reading a dull novel can give you a healthy level of fatigue. Just being in a constant state of trying to keep yourself focused, ensuring that you understand what’s going on, can help you drift to sleep much faster.
Goodreads offers a continuing, yet subjective list of boring things to read to sleep, some of which include Twilight, Life of Pi, Atlas Shrugged, Great Expectations, Moby Dick, Gone with the Wind and Catcher in the Rye. While we don’t agree that some of these books are lackluster, what we are sure of is that reading literary classics or any genre that relaxes you, can help you enjoy different perspectives and reduce your stress – thereby promoting sound sleep.
What You Shouldn’t Do While Reading in Bed
Avoid reading e-books and using electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets, e-readers, and laptops for your nightly reading. The blue light emitted from these devices can suppress the production of melatonin in the body, significantly disrupting your circadian rhythm and your alertness the next day. By reading from a flickering device, you’re getting the complete opposite of what you want from your bedtime reading.
Reading from a printed book is a surefire way of beating stress and promoting proper sleep. However, if you don’t want to ditch your iPad or Kindle Fire, try keeping the device at least 14 inches away from your face and reduce your screen brightness so that you don’t set yourself up for blue light-related sleep issues, such as insomnia.
Reading has been proven to enhance cognition, improve empathy and relationships and reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. People who read consistently are also creative thinkers, have higher incomes and are better public speakers. Reading before bedtime also reduces stress, relaxes your body and helps you sleep more soundly at night.
And that’s not all. Reading also strengthens your vocabulary, boosts your concentration and significantly improves your dream experience. In the modern world, we have many reading materials available to us. While there is a high risk that blue-light devices can interfere with your sleep patterns, there is no replacing that tangible feeling of turning to the next page.
If you’re always struggling with insomnia, we recommend reading something that appears dull. However, if you want to improve your bedtime experience and enjoy nighttime reading, try reading stories that take you into another world.