Reading before bed and the benefits I’ve observed

- 6 mins

Bedside Reading

About a month ago, I was stressed more than usual. There was anxiety building up thinking through some tough life/work decisions. Initially, I hadn’t even realized that I was feeling anxious. All I knew at the moment was that I needed to keep myself distracted from the situation.

The easiest way for me to do that was to pick up my favorite video game - Assassin’s Creed. I got hooked immediately. I would start playing an hour before going to bed and before I knew it, I would end up playing for hours on.

At the time, I accepted this and allowed myself to ‘relax’ during this time. But there was one aspect that came with this glorious hour of slashing enemies - my sleep was getting affected. I noticed I was going to bed with my heart racing faster than my normal state.

One night, my tossing and turning in bed went for more than an hour. Not having any trouble sleeping previously, I decided something had to change. The next day - I kept my controller aside and decided to pick up my Kindle. I glossed over my reading list and decided to pick up the book that most interested me at the time. It was Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.

All of a sudden, I started noticing that not only did this help distract me from any ongoing issues but also helped me fall asleep faster. I’ve since incorporated this to into my routine and I wanted to share my observations and readings -

Benefits of reading before bed

Improvement in overall sleep

One of the first improvements I saw with this routine was how fast I feel asleep. There are times when I get to a couple of pages in my book before I have to set my kindle aside to immediately start snoozing. This is the biggest difference I noticed - how easy it was for me to fall asleep. However, there have been times where I stayed up until later since I was so engrossed in the plotline.

I’ve observed the similarities between reading right before bed and meditation. Reading before bed calms me down and slows down my breath cycles. Moreover, I noticed reading philosophical work before bed especially helps with keeping trivial work issues aside. I especially noticed this as I was reading Siddhartha. Take a look at this excerpt from a research study reported in The Telegraph1.

Participants stress levels and heart rate were increased through a range of tests and exercises before they were then tested with a variety of traditional methods of relaxation. Reading worked best, reducing stress levels by 68 per cent, said cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis. Subjects only needed to read, silently, for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles, he found. In fact it got subjects to stress levels lower than before they started. Listening to music reduced the levels by 61 per cent, have a cup of tea of coffee lowered them by 54 per cent and taking a walk by 42 per cent. Playing video games brought them down by 21 per cent from their highest level but still left the volunteers with heart rates above their starting point.

Reading before bed enhances memory and retention of subject

A study2 on this subject states that for optimal retention, phases of intensive learning, like school, should be followed closely by intervals of sleep.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to specifically read tough subjects before you go to bed. Infact, I particularly choose fiction/philosophy books to read before bed because it makes me less stressed. I love this quote from Michael Pollan

In other words, read great fiction. Cultivate your ear. Before I go to bed, I read a novel every night. That’s because you do a lot of work in your sleep, and I want my brain to be in a rhythm of good prose.” — Michael Pollan

Builds a reading habit made me read a lot more

And finally, reading before bed has helped me finish more books that have been on my to-read list. When I didn’t read before bed, I would usually spend time-consuming information/media and this didn’t contribute to my being in a stress-free state. There are too many wonderful books to read and not enough time. By carving out this time, I’ve been able to enjoy my time more by reading more.

Tips from my own experience to get started with this routine

Pick a book you find interesting and drop ones that you don’t

I feel a mistake I often succumb to is trying to finish a book to its completion. I probably started the book because of a strong interest in the subject but over time - either I lost interest or the book didn’t engage me enough.

Dreading to go back to a book is the biggest mistake when trying to build a reading habit. Reading should be a joyous activity. Aggressively drop books that you don’t enjoy and vigorously read books that you do. This will help you become a voracious reader.

Audiobooks help in falling asleep faster

Personally, I started my nightly reading habit with audiobooks. Since I usually end up taking notes for non-fiction books, I only listen to fiction audiobooks.

Audiobooks are great before bed because 1) you don’t need to worry about looking at a screen (especially since we get enough screen exposure all day anyway). 2) slow pace of narration can help you fall asleep faster.

Keep your phone away (unless you listen to audiobooks)

When beginning your nighttime reading ritual, make sure to keep your phone aside. Keeping notifications/distractions away from you will help you immerse yourself in the book.

Ideally, read on a Kindle/e-reader or a paper book. On the kindle, I prefer to use a lamp with low brightness in the kindle to avoid any artificial light from the e-reader. Making the experience as good as reading a paper book. Some kindles also have a dark mode feature that makes it very easy on the eyes at night.

Couple of other miscellaneous tips

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Footnotes:

  1. “Reading ‘can help reduce stress’.” Telegraph, 8 May. 2021, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html. 

  2. Gais, Steffen, et al. “Sleep after learning aids memory recall.” Learn. Mem., vol. 13, no. 3, 1 May. 2006, pp. 259-62, doi:10.1101/lm.132106. 

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