Tossing and turning for hours at night? There may be a solution you haven’t yet thought of: reading to sleep. Maybe you haven’t fallen asleep reading since trying to cram in a classic novel in school, but reading before bed has a variety of benefits that make it worth a shot. We’ll walk you through the reasons why you should read before bed and what you might try reading to fall asleep.
What Prevents Sleep
But first, what’s keeping you up at night in the first place? One major factor is the stress chemical your brain creates—cortisol. While cortisol acts as nature’s alarm system, if it’s lingering in your system at night, getting quality shut eye gets tricky. Cortisol can stick around and even get produced at night when you’re stressed, anxious, or unable to unwind.
Another thing preventing sleep is light. Light signals to your brain that it’s time to be awake, so any light at night can be signaling to your brain that it’s time to wake up. Exposing yourself to bright lights—especially those from technology—can keep your brain awake long after you’re in bed.
How Reading Affects the Brain
For years, researchers have studied reading and the brain using cool MRI tech. From these studies, they’ve found that reading strengthens your brain and increases connectivity between ideas. Also, reading—even just for 30 minutes—can lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Why does that matter? It means that reading lowers stress in your body and your brain.
In addition, reading has always been a great way to give your brain a little escapism. Reading transports you to new lives and new worlds, which can help your brain relax and let go of your own worries and problems as you traverse a literary world.
Reading and Sleep
So now we bring everything together. If stress chemicals and light are part of what may be keeping you up at night, a winding down routine before bedtime that will help you relax and avoid bright light is ideal. That’s where reading comes in. Since reading has been shown to lower stress levels even in small doses, it’s the perfect addition to your bedtime routine. That little bit of literary escapism helps your brain wind down and let go of your day—letting you drift off to dreamland a little quicker.
Not sold on reading yet? The idea still sounds like a ploy from your English teacher? Here are more reasons why reading should be added to your nightly routine. According to a couple of surveys of readers, those who read before bedtime report higher quality sleep at night and even 25 minutes more sleep at night compared to those who don’t read before bedtime. Who doesn’t want an extra half hour of quality sleep at night?
What to Read to Sleep
So you want to read before bed, but what do you read? Probably not a page-turning thriller. Choosing your pre-bed reading material should be a thoughtful process, so you don’t accidentally stay up all night reading. Here are some general guidelines for choosing a book:
- Don’t choose something intense or emotional. That action-packed thriller or compelling tragedy might stimulate your brain and keep you up longer than you’d like.
- Try to read a physical copy of the book. While your phone or an e-reader can be handy, they also produce blue light. Light can keep you from catching ZZZs, so settling for a physical book with dim lamp lighting can help you properly wind down.
- Consider an audiobook. Audiobooks are a great way to calm your mind and let go of the day’s worries all while lying down with your eyes closed. No light required.
- Choose one of the popular pre-bedtime genres. In a survey, Penguin Random House polled bedtime readers and found their favorite genres for their routines are romance, history, and fantasy. Why these genres? Fantastical and happy genres help you avoid thinking about difficult subjects while instead escaping mentally to a happy place. That happy place will then help you sleep.
Reading can help you relax and unwind before bed—ultimately helping you fall asleep a little quicker and sleep a little better.