Reading Before Sleep: Why a Few Minutes Make a Big Difference

Few minutes, big difference

reading before sleep

If you are like most people, you have routines in the morning that help you start your day. Whether it’s a morning exercise, meditation, or simply writing a gratitude journal, morning rituals can help you make the most of the day.

But routines are not just for the morning. Evening routines, especially before you sleep, are equally important. Research shows that reading before sleep can be a powerful evening routine.

Bedtime routines and reading before sleep

A lot of studies have researched how bedtime routines impact sleep and well being in young adults and children. In one study, researchers found that a consistent bedtime routine was associated with better sleep outcomes.

And by sleep outcomes, the researchers include earlier bedtimes, shorter sleep onset latency, reduced night wakings, and increased sleep duration.

Later, Xiaoxiao et al will corroborate these findings. Xiaoxiao et al’s study aimed to understand how children and adolescents living in metropolitan areas battle with choices that compete with sleep.

They found that habits were impactful: “Habitual activities had small but significant associations with sleep hygiene outcomes especially among secondary school students.” 

Think for a moment about what that means. Having a routine, a calming one for that matter will go a long way to help you get a better night’s sleep. One of the best routines you can have is reading before sleep. 

What are the benefits of reading before sleep?

1. Reading reduces stress

If you’re like most people in the US, it’s likely that about 72 percent of the time, you feel stressed about money at least some of the time. This stress stems from job loss, reduced retirement, and medical expenses.

Source: American Psychological Association

But it’s not only stress about money that bugs you. A report by the American Psychological Association found other factors that cause stress to include:

  • Job Pressure: tensions between you and co-workers, bosses, work overload
  • Health: health emergencies, chronic or terminal illness or diseases
  • Relationships: divorce, spousal deal, disagreements with friends, loneliness
  • Poor Nutrition: lack or inadequate nutrition, caffeine overdoses, processed foods, refined sugars
  • Media Overload: Social media, television, e-mail, radio, internet
  • Sleep Deprivation: Inability to sleep well, and release stress hormones

One of the groundbreaking studies on how reading reduces stress was done by researchers from Mindlab International at the University of Sussex. Their research reported that reading was the best way to reduce stress, slashing stress levels by 68 percent. 

Reading enabled the volunteers in the study to lower stress levels to a point lower than before they started.

Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation – Dr. Lewis Click To Tweet

Dr. David Lewis, a cognitive neuropsychologist and a lead on that research found something amazing. It turns out that subjects who read silently for six minutes were able to slow the pace of their heart rate and ease muscle tension.

Compare this to other relaxing activities which reduce stress only slightly:

  • Listening to music: 61%,
  • Drinking a cup of tea or coffee: 54% 
  • Going for a walk by 42%
  • Playing video games: 21% 

There’s a clear winner, and it’s reading. The ultimate point: “Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation,” says Dr. Lewis.

2. Reading increases empathy

Empathy is often used to describe the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experiences of others. Whether you are a teacher or a student or stay-at-home mom or a sales leader, empathy is known to help you become better at your work.

Think about it: We work with others and we need to understand the way they feel and think and act. Empathy helps us to better understand, care and support others with compassion, thoughtfulness or sensitivity.

Raymond A. Mar, Keith Oatley and Jordan B. Peterson confirmed in their study the relationship between reading and empathy. 

The report that “reading fiction predicts empathetic accuracy.” Part of the reason is that when we read fiction we immerse ourselves into the social experiences of the characters. 

And often, especially for good fiction books, processing these experiences stimulate the same cognitive processes we use in the real world social engagements.

This includes emotion, recognition, and mental inferences. As you’re reading before sleep, you guide your self to feel more empathy which can help you face the next day with more mindfulness.

3. Reading lowers the risk of dementia 

Dementia is dreadful. And its prevalence keeps doubling. The World Alzheimer Report estimated that by 2050, over 100 million of the world population will be affected.

But here’s the good news: We can proactively reduce the risk.

A growing body of research has found that greater levels of activities that stimulate the brain can help to lower the risk of dementia, especially as we grow older.

Reading is one of those activities. A team of researchers teamed up on research aimed to find the correlation between reading and dementia. They published their findings in a paper titled “Engagement in reading and hobbies and risk of incident dementia: The MoVIES Project

Their findings concluded that engaging in a cognitively stimulating hobby an hour or more hours every day might be protective against dementia in late life.

“Our study showed that being engaged in more reading and hobby activities and spending more time each week reading is associated with a lower subsequent risk of incident dementia,” they wrote.

Here’s an important takeaway:

Before you sleep each night, take the chance to stimulate your mind and protect yourself against dementia. Your future self will thank you later.

4. Reading improves relationships 

Reading fiction has been noted to enhance the way we connect with others and improve our relationships.

One study reported that:

“Engaging in the simulative experiences of fiction literature can facilitate the understanding of others who are different from ourselves and can augment our capacity for empathy and social inference.

This important because the more empathy we experience, the better we can create more meaningful social connections. We better understand what others think and feel so we respond well in social settings. 

Also, it helps us to look beyond ourselves and engage in behaviors that help others. And guess what? The more help you offer to others, the more likely others are to help you as well.