The Bedtime Reading Effect: How Reading in Bed Improves Sleep

Many of us have fond memories of being read bedtime stories as children. There’s something soothing and comforting about listening to a parent’s voice while drifting off to sleep. As adults, reading in bed before going to sleep can have similarly beneficial effects. Studies show that reading before bedtime can help improve sleep quality and duration. Here’s an overview of the research on the bedtime reading effect and how making reading part of your nightly wind-down routine can set you up for a good night’s rest.

How Reading Before Bed Affects Sleep

Reading a book or e-reader in bed has been found to help people fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly throughout the night. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine had participants read print books or e-readers every night before bed for five consecutive nights. On average, participants fell asleep about 10 minutes faster when reading compared to nights when they did not read before bed.

Participants also reported feeling less alertness before falling asleep when reading. This indicates that reading helped relax their minds and bodies, priming them for sleep. Other research using EEG recordings of brain activity has shown that reading before bed increases time spent in deep, slow-wave sleep. Slow-wave sleep is the most restorative sleep stage.

So physiologically, reading before bed helps calm the mind, reduce cognitive arousal, and increase relaxation. This facilitates the transition from wakefulness to sleep.

Winding Down with a Book

Mentally, choosing a book to read before bed signals to your brain and body that it’s time to start winding down. Having a consistent relaxing bedtime routine is one of the most important sleep hygiene practices you can adopt. Reading is an ideal component of a nightly routine because it allows you to disengage from the stimulation of screens.

Reading an engaging yet calming book helps distract you from the thoughts, stresses, and worries of the day. This prevents your mind from racing when you’re trying to fall asleep. Thirty minutes to an hour of reading lets your mind decompress and eases you into sleep mode. Making reading the standard final activity before lights out establishes a positive sleep cue. Your mind will start associating reading in bed with falling asleep.

Choosing the Right Book

Not all books have the same effect at bedtime. The key is choosing a book that engages but does not overstimulate you. Page-turners full of suspense, drama, and shocking plot twists are not ideal pre-bed reads. They can spike your adrenaline, heart rate, and brain activity—the opposite of what you want before sleep.

The best bedtime books have engaging stories and minimal surprises. Books you’ve already read can be especially useful since you already know the storyline. Choose books that are interesting but not overly exciting. Soothing fiction, light-hearted memoirs, short story collections, and spiritual or inspirational works often make excellent wind-down reads. Consistently implementing a bedtime reading routine helps signal to your mind and body that it’s time for sleep.

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