Reading at any time throughout the day comes with numerous health benefits. Whether you are reading to learn or just for fun, research has shown that doing so before bed can help you reduce stress levels and even fall asleep faster. To learn more about the benefits of reading before bed, continue reading.
There’s nothing like cracking open a new book or diving into an old favorite. Millions of people love to read, and for good reason (few things are better than a well-written page-turner). Yet aside from the elaborate plot twists and loveable characters that great novels can offer, reading real books can have a tremendous impact on your overall wellness—especially when you read before bed. That’s why people who read before falling asleep might be boosting their physical and mental health without even knowing it.
If you love to read before bed, here’s why sleep experts encourage you to keep up this healthy bedtime habit. Or if you like to spend your evenings watching Netflix or scrolling through your phone, here are a few reasons why you should consider reading a book either instead or in between those screen-based activities and bed.
Health Benefits of Reading a Book Before Bed
Reading—but not too late—can help you fall asleep faster.
On average, most adults take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep. This is known as sleep latency, or how quickly you fall asleep. While some people naturally fall asleep easily, many others need more help drifting off—and reading a book can be a great way to promote sleepiness. A recent study compared the results of reading before bed versus not reading before bed, and found that 42 percent of the group that read before bed reported feeling that their sleep improved, while only 28 percent of the group that didn’t read before bed noted any sleep improvements.1
Still, there’s a catch: Reading on a light-emitting e-reader can potentially do more harm than good, which means ideally you’ll need to pick up a regular, real book. Research shows that using e-readers, like a Kindle or Nook, in the evening can negatively affect sleep, circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock that regulates sleep patterns according to natural light shifts) and next-morning alertness.2 This is because e-readers and other electronic devices emit blue light, which suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a key hormone contributing to sleepiness and rises in the evening as your body prepares to rest. Blue light, which occurs naturally in daylight, basically signals to the body that it should wake up.
“The consequence of reading with a bright light [is that it] signals to your brain that it’s daylight, which will prolong the period before you fall asleep,” explains Katherine Hall, PhD, sleep psychologist and sleep expert at Happy Beds. “Reading with a night light or dim light in the background is best for promoting sleepiness.”
While cozying up with a good book is one of the best bedtime activities you can do, be sure not to read for too long. A survey of 2,003 adults by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that 66 percent of U.S. adults report losing sleep over late-night reading.3 Despite how eager you are to get to the next chapter, make sure you put your book down and hit the pillow early enough to get your recommended seven to nine hours of rest every night. Set an alarm to alert you to bedtime if you’re prone to getting lost in the plot and losing track of time.
Reading can reduce stress and calm racing thoughts.
Did you know that reading just six pages of a book can reduce stress by up to 68 percent? An older study by the University of Sussex found that reading had a greater impact on stress reduction than other popular relaxation methods like listening to music or drinking a hot cup of tea. Since the average reading speed is one page per minute, you don’t have to read for long to enjoy the stress-relief benefits that books can offer. This makes reading “an easy habit to form for anyone,” Hall says.
Sony Sherpa, MD, holistic health practitioner of Nature’s Rise says reading serves as an excellent form of relaxation that lets you disengage from stressful thoughts. If you’ve ever had trouble sleeping due to anxious, racing thoughts, cracking open a book could be a game-changer.
“When we engage in a good book, we can switch off our minds from daily stressors, thereby reducing cortisol, the stress hormone, and concurrently increasing dopamine and serotonin levels,” she explains. “Reading allows our brains to practice mindfulness and cultivate a greater sense of calm.” Dopamine and serotonin are two feel-good neurotransmitters involved in the sleep-wake cycle.
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Reading can boost cognitive function.
While reading is an enjoyable activity, it’s also an excellent brain exercise with a similar effect to working on a puzzle or crossword. It helps improve memory and boost overall cognitive function, keeping your mind sharp and agile. Studies show that frequent reading in general, anytime of day, is associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline, and Dr. Sherpa says reading can improve critical thinking skills.4
“Over time, reading helps to strengthen neural pathways and can support mental health by reducing stress, improving memory, and enhancing creativity,” she explains. “Reading improves the brain’s ability to process information quickly and keeps it sharp as we age.” So, what does this have to do with sleep? Quality sleep is critical to cognitive function and vice-versa, which means boosting one can boost the other.’
Hall also explains that the act of reading a book can exercise different parts of your brain at the same time, such as visual, auditory, and emotional. It “forces [these parts] to work together to create images of what’s being read, hear voices speaking the words aloud, and feel emotions associated with certain scenes or characters,” she explains. “This process helps strengthen neural connections between these different brain regions so that when you need access to that specific information later on, it’s easier to recall.”
Why Reading Before Bed Is Better Than Scrolling Your Phone or Watching TV
What do most people do at night when they’re not reading? They scroll on their phones, and sometimes mindlessly. “We’re all guilty of it,” Hall says. “Before long, half an hour has passed, and we’re still glued to the glass rectangle feeling more awake than before we picked up our phone.”
Since cell phones emit blue light as mentioned above, Hall explains that even a quick 10-minute scroll on your phone can “confuse your internal body clock,” or circadian rhythm. Hall says the same can be said for watching TV. “When this happens, melatonin levels drop and alertness increases, making it difficult to fall asleep,” she explains. “Secondly, the content of what you watch can also affect your sleep quality. If you watch violent or intense programming before bedtime, it can cause nightmares, which can lead to poor sleep quality and chronic insomnia.”
If you’re really determined to get better sleep, be disciplined about stopping screen time about two hours before bed. “Instead of scrolling, make a conscious effort to stop using your phone by 8 p.m. if you plan on sleeping at 10 p.m., and pick up a physical book instead,” she says.