Is there anything nicer than snuggling into your duvet after a long, tiresome day and losing yourself in a good book? Bookworms will know that reading before bed offers a special kind of homecoming and tranquility that we can't quite find anywhere else — and certainly not on our social media feeds.
Reading offers you a quiet, safe space away from the worries of the world, it's easier on your eyes and brain than bright electronic devices, and can even help improve your creativity and brain function over time. Pretty cool, right? Let's explore some of the benefits of reading before bed.
Here are just a few of the health and wellness benefits you'll start seeing if you make reading before bed a part of your daily practice.
It'll come as no surprise that reading an engaging book is a great way to shake off the stresses of the day. As people, we're naturally inclined to turn our worries over and over in our minds, looking back and planning ahead, trying to find ways to make the next day a little smoother while forgetting to live in the moment.
A study by the University of Sussex found that reading for as little as six minutes(!) reduced stress levels more effectively than listening to music, drinking tea or coffee, or playing video games. Reading works because it does two things at once: firstly, it provides you with a distraction from the world and the problems in it; secondly, unlike other guilty pleasure distractions like scrolling through your Pinterest feed, reading actually keeps your brain engaged and working in a creative, empathetic way. We'll talk about both of those more below.
Reading anything, from stories to essays to poetry, will help you see the world in new and exciting ways. People who read often have been shown to be more open to new cultures and ideas. Reading before bed gently stimulates your mind, broadens your perspective, and inspires new ideas even the morning after. Some of the world's most successful people will read anything and everything as a way to expand their capacity for understanding and contributing to the world.
Reading is an activity that gives your mind a workout while keeping your body nice and relaxed. When you read before bed, you'll find that the engaging activity in your brain will actually tire you out in a soft, approachable way — which is different than physical exercise, which can have a stimulating effect.
It also gives you some quality screen-free time, which allows your body to warm down for the night more effectively. The blue light from our electronic devices is not only hard on our eyes but tricks our brains into recognizing it as daylight. This makes it harder to settle into our natural pattern of nighttime sleep. Science constantly shows that people who spend time on their phone or tablet right before bed suffer from poor sleep, so anything that helps us take some downtime away from that is a win.
In addition, reading before bed relaxes you on an emotional level. This means that when you do drift off your sleep will be deeper, more regenerative, and more peaceful, and you'll wake up feeling well-rested and refreshed.
Our brains are pretty interesting things. Reading has been shown to increase connectivity in the brain, or our ability to understand things. This is especially important at bedtime since our sleeping hours are when our bodies do a lot of their growing and regenerating.
When we're actively engaged in a good book, our brains are firing through things like narrative comprehension, phonemic awareness, pattern recognition, and vocabulary. Working these skills over time improves our ability to think and process, which has been shown to reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.
Reading, particularly reading fiction, is an amazing way to gain a deeper understanding of people from all classes, cultures, and walks of life. Engaging with a story that's very different from the world you know gives you a chance to explore new people and new situations from a safe place — which doesn't make those experiences any less real.
These mental and emotional benefits are shown to stay with us long after we close our books and go to sleep; research has shown that people who read often display a greater ability to empathize, understand others, and maintain healthy relationships.
“Armchair travel”, or experiencing far-off places without needing to leave your home, is a real thing. So are armchair love, loss, wonder, and hot fudge sundaes. Reading triggers a fascinating phenomenon called “grounded cognition”, which means that your brain will start to treat stimuli in engaging stories the same way it treats stimuli in your immediate surroundings. For example, if you read about someone trying a gooey double-decker ice cream sundae for the first time, living the experience in rich sensory detail, your brain will begin firing off responses as though you were the one living it. Same with new places and sensations. Reading is the original virtual reality.
So you're settling into your cozy blankets for some quality pre-snooze time. What's the best book to pick up? A literary epic? A trashy airport romance? Poetry? Non-fiction?
Reading just about anything is good for your brain, and the best way to get these benefits consistently and reliably is to choose something you'll actually enjoy reading. There's no sense promising yourself you'll read the unabridged War and Peace for its intellectual street cred when you'll be bored to tears within minutes. When you have a free hour or two, try taking a walk through your local library and scanning the shelves for a low-commitment evening read. If you don't love it, you can always bring it back to pass on to someone who will.
In general, fiction books are best for your vicarious armchair living and for developing empathy towards others; however, reading creative non-fiction about interesting people or places can accomplish this just as well. Non-fiction is a great stop for learning about new things and uncovering fascinating secrets about the world. Poetry is a wonderful way to begin looking at language in a new light and seeing what it can do; in addition to the more formal classics, poetry can be found in all manner of styles and subject matter, so there's a riveting poetry collection out there for just about anybody.
Every type of storytelling has its own draws and strengths, but what matters most in gaining these bedtime benefits is that you're reading.
Getting lost in a good book is one of life's greatest pleasures. It turns out it's not only good for our spirit, but for our minds and bodies as well. Whether you feel inclined towards novels, short stories, poetry, lifestyle books, books about nature, about history, about the world we live in, about worlds we'll never know… settling in to read before bed will make you healthier and happier for a long time.
So when you reach for your bedside paperback, know that you'll be doing your brain a favor, improving your real-world relationships with others, and kicking up the quality and enjoyability of your nighttime sleep.