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The Bedtime Reading Effect: How Reading in Bed Improves Sleep

Tossing, turning, and struggling to quiet your racing mind when attempting to fall asleep is frustrating and detrimental to your health. While practices like meditation, sleep hygiene, and medication can help, sometimes the simplest sleep remedy is tapping into the power of reading in bed. The act of reading before laying down to sleep makes a monumental difference in both sleep onset and quality. Understanding the science behind why reading in bed improves sleep can encourage you to incorporate books into your bedtime wind-down routine.

Darkness + Reading Cues Melatonin Release

Our natural circadian rhythms make us feel drowsy when it becomes dark outside as melatonin is released. Reading a printed book in a dimly lit room just before sleep mimics those conditions, signaling the brain to produce sleep-inducing melatonin. Backlit tablets have the opposite effect, disrupting melatonin. But opening an actual book when getting into bed tricks your brain into releasing this hormone to make you feel sleepy.

Reading Captures Your Full Attention

An engaging book absorbs your focus into the story, taking your mind off the worries, thoughts, and to-do lists that keep you awake. As you become immersed in the book, your mind stops its restless ruminating. Attention captured by reading facilitates a transition into sleep since you can’t ruminate when engrossed in a story.

Reading Lowers Heart Rate and Breathing

Following the flow of sentences as you read requires steady, rhythmic breathing. As your body calms, heart rate also drops. This regulated respiration sends powerful signals to your brain and nervous system that it’s time to unwind for sleep. The body interprets this as instructions to release sleep hormones.

Reading Reduces Stress and Eases Anxiety

High stress and anxiety levels often manifest as inability to fall asleep. The escapism of reading helps relieve muscle tension and quiet mental chatter linked to stress. Immersing in a story world eases worries about real life. Less stress and anxiety equals faster sleep onset.

Reading Makes You Comfortable in Bed

The more awake time you spend in bed reading, the more your brain associates being in bed with falling asleep. You train your mind and body that it’s time for sleep simply by getting into bed and opening your book. This bedtime reading effect helps you fall asleep faster.

Reading Print Books Minimizes Blue Light

Blue light from phones, tablets, computers and TVs reduces melatonin, delaying sleep. Reading an actual printed book in bed avoids sleep-disrupting blue light. Having a tangible book to associate with sleeping tricks your brain into releasing melatonin.

Reading Boosts Dopamine and Reduces Cortisol

Levels of the alertness hormone cortisol start decreasing before bed for normal sleepers. Reading helps lower cortisol while increasing relaxing dopamine. This hormonal change brought on by reading tells your body it’s time for sleep.

Reading Improves Sleep Quality

Reading in bed not only helps you fall asleep faster, but improves sleep quality and duration. Reading fosters memory consolidation, dreaming, and REM sleep. Your brain better processes and retains information read before bed.

Reading Fiction Improves Empathy and Emotional Processing

Immersing in novels enhances empathy, emotional functioning, and perspective taking. This allows reflection on the day’s events so you don’t ruminate on them. Reading literary fiction in bed enables constructive processing for restful sleep.

Make reading the last thing you do before turning out the bedside light. This simple habit trains your brain for faster sleep onset and higher quality sleep. Harness the power of the bedtime reading effect by replacing screens with books before bed. You’ll soon find yourself looking forward to this relaxing wind-down ritual.