We’ve all heard the advice to not watch TV before bed, avoid scrolling through Facebook and pick up a book instead—especially if you’re having trouble sleeping.
As a literature graduate, it’s always been a habit for me to reach for the paperback instead of my mobile phone when I’m tucked up in bed at night, and I’ve never really considered that there may be health benefits to being a bookworm.
But what does science have to say about it? Is there any evidence to support that reading can help you sleep better and that it’s better for your health?
Why reading is good for your health
Reading has many benefits for your health and wellbeing such as improving your cognitive function and reducing stress.
At Sussex University, a study was carried out on a group of volunteers to find out the best way to relax, in which traditionally relaxing activities were tested against one another.
Reading came out on top, and it was concluded that just 6 minutes of reading could reduce stress by 68% by slowing the heart rate and easing muscle tension.
Dr. David Lewis went on to say that reading was an “active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.”
So, not only is reading a great way to help you to relax before bed and get you to sleep, but it can also improve your imagination and creativity which could be beneficial for your workday too.
To screen or not to screen?
It’s best to try to avoid reading from your mobile phone or iPad which has harsh UV lights that can be disruptive when it comes to sleep.
A study on the impact of light-emitting eBooks before bed suggested that reading screens on devices can have negative effects as it “suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, reduces the amount and delays the timing of REM sleep, and reduces alertness the following morning” meaning eBooks may even reverse the positive effects of reading for cognitive function.
Not only will reading a physical book prevent you from looking at screens before bed, which is better for your eyes, but it will also help to keep bookshops and libraries open.
If you have a partner who doesn’t want the glare of a lamp when they are trying to sleep, then consider buying a book light that attaches to your book and prevents you from disturbing your partner at night when you read.
If you prefer reading eBooks, then think about investing in an e-reader designed with lighting that is gentle on the eyes.
As much as I love reading physical books, my Kindle Paperwhite is perfect for reading in bed. It’s easy to hold when I’m reading at night and has soft lighting and no glare, which is much kinder to the eyes.
You could even consider investing in some blue light filter glasses to add even more protection from any harmful lighting from screen devices during the day as well as at night, especially if your job involves lots of screen time.
Best way to read in bed
If you are having trouble sleeping at night, then making reading a part of your everyday sleep routine is a great idea.
Not only should you avoid harsh lighting when you read at night, but we would advise against stimulants like tea or coffee before bed that can increase the heart rate and keep you awake.
Instead, consider some alternatives that will help you get relaxed such as caffeine-free chamomile tea or warm milk.
The best position to read in is sitting up, as reading laying down can cause eye strain and neck ache.
Pop a comfy pillow behind you as you sit up in bed and let your eyes settle naturally on the page in front of you.
Many people recommend reading boring books before bed to make you fall asleep quicker, but instead, this will probably just put you off reading altogether.
Reading should be an activity to look forward to, especially if it’s going to become part of your everyday routine.
I love reading historical fiction or fantasy before bed, but you may prefer something light that takes less concentration for a tired mind, such as contemporary romance or a thriller if you’re brave enough.
But, if you scare easily or are sensitive to emotional stories, then consider avoiding these during the night as the subject matter may keep you awake.
Instead, light-hearted stories with happy endings should give you plenty of pleasant dreams!
Reading in bed can be the perfect antidote for insomnia as it helps to reduce stress and wind down after a busy day.
Reading is also a great way to improve your brain function, encourage your creativity, expand your vocabulary, and let you explore imaginary worlds from the comfort of your own bed.
I think that beats counting sheep at night!
- Anne-Marie Chang, Daniel Aeschbach, Jeanne F. Duffy, Charles A. Czeisler
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jan 2015, 112 (4) 1232-1237; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1418490112
- Dr. David Lewis “Galaxy Stress Research,” Mindlab International, Sussex University (2009)