by Jodi Helmer
Remember hiding under the covers with a flashlight and a paperback and hoping to finish another chapter before being admonished to turn out the lights? It’s time to resurrect that childhood habit.
Reading has been associated with a host of benefits from a greater sense of empathy to a decreased risk of dementia. Crawling under the covers with a book might also help you sleep better. Despite the demonstrated benefits of reading, a 2014 report released by the Pew Research Center found 24% of Americans did not read a single book in the previous year.
Here are four research-backed reasons to read before bed:
READING REDUCES STRESS
Reading is a pleasurable escape. Whether you get caught up in a romance novel or keep turning the pages to figure out whodunit, focusing on the plot means you’re not obsessing over a deadline at work or a pile of dirty laundry — thoughts that can keep you from falling asleep.
Reading for as few as six minutes before bed reduced stress by 68%.
One study found reading for 30 minutes was associated with lower blood pressure and heart rate and significant reductions in stress — and researchers at the University of Sussex reported that reading for as few as six minutes before bed reduced stress by 68%, making it more relaxing than listening to music or drinking a cup of tea.
READING IS A FORM OF MEDITATION
The adage “get lost in a good book” holds true. Reading, especially fiction, allows you to explore personal truths, experience emotions and understand obscure relationships between them, according to a study published in the Review of General Psychology.
Researcher Keith Oatley PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto has likened reading to meditation, noting, “As we start [reading], we set aside our own goals and concerns, somewhat as a person does who is starting a session of meditation.”
READING MINIMIZES SCREEN TIME
The more time you spend with your nose buried in a book, the less exposure you have to devices like cell phones and tablets, which interfere with your circadian rhythm, making it harder to regulate sleep. The black and white text in a paperback, unlike the blue lights from electronic devices, will not interfere with sleep (just avoid staying up late to finish one more chapter).
Good news for fans of e-readers, though: Dr. Raman Malhotra, Associate Professor of Neurology at the Washington University Sleep Center in St. Louis, Missouri, notes that some models have features to minimize the blue wavelength light so you can get caught up in the story without worrying about your device impacting your sleep.
READING IS PART OF A BEDTIME RITUAL
Establishing a regular bedtime routine can make it easier to slip into a deep, restful slumber and reading can be part of the relaxing routine. If reading is part of that ritual, opening up a book around the same time each night sends the signal to your brain that it’s time for bed.
“Adding a bedtime routine can separate sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety that make it more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep,” Malhotra says. “Reading can be relaxing and enjoyable, which can put your mind and body in the appropriate mindset or mood to go to sleep.”
Reading news articles and social media status updates on your smartphone doesn’t count as a relaxing bedtime ritual, according to Malhotra, who explains, “Reading content that may be distressing, stressful or even too exciting can have the opposite effect of making it more difficult to fall asleep.”
To make it easier to drift into dreamland, stick with fiction instead of headline news.