Why Reading Before Bed Could Be The Key To A Good Night's Sleep

If you are struggling to fall asleep come bed time or simply need a way to wind down after a stressful day, reading before bed might just be something to consider. It is recommended for adults to get anywhere between seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but WebMD revealed that 35% of adults in the U.S. are sleeping less than seven hours. Additionally, if you're feeling sleepy often, that could be an indication from your body that you are getting a lack of sleep. About 50% of Americans also feel sleepy three to seven days a week, according to WebMD.

As a result, a lack of sleep can lead to sleep deprivation, according to Cedars Sinai, which causes drowsiness, fatigue, less energy, a weakened immune system, and even stress. If you struggle with stress already, that may also be affecting your ability to get the recommended amount of sleep. The vicious cycle continues when that same lack of sleep can add more stress on top of what you may already be struggling with.

A relaxing distraction

While sleeping habits vary for everyone, reading before bed can put you into a more relaxing headspace. It can help you wind down after a long day. Headspace states that cognitive exercises, such as reading, helps strengthen the mind much like how physical exercise strengthens the body. This in turn helps your mind focus on forming or visualizing narratives, emphasizing the use of your imagination. "Typically, when you read, you have more time to think," director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, Maryanne Wolf tells Headspace. "Reading gives you a unique pause button for comprehension and insight." Taking this kind of pause can help distract your mind from the stressful, constant movement in your mind.

Additionally, reading before bed can also replace your use of screen time whether on a phone, a tablet, or television. A study by the University of Haifa found that the blue light emitted from electronics can actually damage your sleep. This blue light has been found to shorten sleep and reduce the natural production of melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate your natural circadian rhythm, also known as your sleep cycle. As many as 90% of Americans use their phone before bed to browse social media, the news, or videos, which can in turn also cause elevated stress or anxiety depending on the content consumed. Choosing to read before bed, preferably a physical book or on devices without the blue light, can be a lot more beneficial to help put your mind at ease at the end of the day.

Long-term benefits

If stress is causing your lack of sleep, your lack of sleep can cause more stress in what may feel like a cruel cycle. According to a study by the University of Sussex, reading was found to have helped reduce stress levels by 68%, more than other methods such as drinking tea, listening to music, or taking a walk (via the National Endowment for the Arts). The act of reading is a minimal effort activity that gives your mind a chance to wind down and reduce your stress over time, especially around bed time.

When put into this state of relaxation, the quality of your sleep will also improve. Sometimes, overthinking about wanting to feel relaxed can add to your stress. According to WebMD, reading before bed helps create a natural transition into relaxation. Reading helps you get into that mindset without all the pressure, and before you know it, you will see improvements in your sleep as you naturally relax more each night.

As you tap into feeling more at ease, you sleep better. When you sleep better, your brain health also improves, especially when associated with reading. In fact, reading has been found to improve the brain's connectivity, increasing understanding, empathy, and critical thinking as you exercise mental agility. Lack of sleep can do the opposite. "Over the last decade, researchers have sort of flipped the problem on its head, thinking about sleep disturbance as a modifiable risk factor for poor cognitive and neurologic outcomes," assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Adam Spira, Ph.D. tells Brain & Life.

Slow down, ease your thinking, sleep better, and improve your general health by winding down with a good, relaxing book, even if it's just for 20 minutes each night.