If you regularly read our sleep and health blog, you know we’ve spoken before about the importance of a calming bedtime routine. Bedtime routines aren’t just for kids! They help your brain separate the day from the night, clear your mind and body of the day's stresses, and ease yourself into sleep. For some people this involves a warm bath. For others, a few minutes spent in Yoga Nidra is ideal. Did you know that settling down with a good book can reduce stress, increase brain function, and improve sleep?
Reading before bed is incredibly beneficial! Here are just a few of the top reasons this is such a good idea:
#1 Reading reduces stress. If you’re one of the millions of people who have a hard time falling asleep at night, it’s probably because the stress from your day and worries about tomorrow keep running through your mind. A study published in the Telegraph by the University of Sussex raised a number of participants' stress levels and then attempted to reduce them. Cognitive Neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis found that “reading worked best, reducing stress levels by 68%.” In fact, it only took six minutes for participants’ stress levels to be reduced! Reading performed better than many known de-stressors, like music (61%), drinking tea or coffee (54%) and taking a walk (42%).
When reading a good book, your mind is distracted. It gives your mind the option to be somewhere else for a little while, away from daily stresses and tension. As you leave your own troubles behind, your muscles begin to relax and your breathing slows. Before you know it, you are feeling calmer.
#2 It builds brain power. Reading does wonderful things for you, no matter what time of day you pick up a book! Remember, your brain is a muscle too. Just like the rest of the body, your brain needs a workout to keep it healthy. Reading is more “neurologically challenging” than speaking or processing images. Think of reading a book like taking your brain for a jog!
It doesn’t just improve your mental skills right now. Again just like exercise, it has both short-term and long-term benefits! It has been shown to reduce the risk of developing degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. A study found that people who engage their brains in an activity like reading are two and a half times less likely to develop the illness. Just like getting a healthy amount of sleep each night, reading will not only improve your well-being now but have a lasting positive effect on your health in years to come!
#3 You will avoid the negative consequences of screen time too late in the day. The reason to build a healthy bedtime routine is that the alternative is well, not healthy! Study after study has proven that technology can negatively affect your sleep, particularly if you stare at bright screens right before you try to go to bed. Scrolling through social media, watching tv, and staring at your phone before you sleep suppresses melatonin and keeps your brain from letting you sleep. This means reading on a device is out of the question. While reading on an iPad or Kindle will bring you benefits during the day, like boosting your vocabulary and increasing your brain functioning, it won’t help you before bed. Pick up a good old fashioned book!
#4 Fictional stories improve your empathy. According to scientific studies, reading literary fiction can make you a more empathetic person overall. This is probably because you can understand the thought processes of people unlike yours. The entire story is told through someone else’s point of view, giving you something to reflect on as you lie on your pillow. By reading at night before falling asleep, you are contributing to your own self-improvement!
#5 Reading makes you sleepy. Even if none of the other items on this list were true, reading before bed would still be a great idea because reading makes you feel tired! When you’re reading, your eye muscles quickly scan in a very patterned way, moving from left to right. Micro eye movement and focusing are both occurring. Your body then becomes tired as you “exercise” your eye muscles more and more. Soon, you’ll be ready to close your eyes altogether!
That’s not all. Another way reading can make you sleepy is if you’re performing the activity in a location associated with sleep, like in your bed. Your body has conditioned itself to associate that place with sleep. Your muscles begin to relax, you’re already in bed, and a domino effect occurs as your body slowly enters sleep mode.
If you’re looking for a way to fall asleep faster and have a much more restful sleep, you’re not alone. One-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, according to the CDC. Beyond sleeping on a high-quality premium mattress, creating a bedtime routine is one of the easiest steps you can take to enjoy better sleep. A simple lifestyle change can help your body, mind, and soul relax before bed. If you’re looking for a new way to improve your nightly routine, give reading a try! It has numerous benefits to both your physical and mental health.