I recently reintroduced the habit of reading before bed and it has had such a calming and positive effect on my life. When I was younger I was an avid reader, easily devouring five to six books a week. Sometimes even staying up until the middle of the night because I just couldn’t put a certain book down.
This was all prior to the era of smartphones. Once those became ubiquitous, my daily reading was replaced with quick fixes of random internet articles, and way too much Candy Crush. The constant presence of my smartphone coupled with increasing demands on my time as I have gotten older, has resulted in reading fewer books just for the pleasure of it.
Reading before bed is not just a way for me to recapture some of the easier, quieter times of my childhood but a concerted effort to reduce stress while improving my health and happiness.
Reading before bed has many health benefits
Initially you may tell yourself that you can’t possibly add another thing to your already busy schedule, especially when all you want to do is collapse in bed at the end of the day and get some much needed sleep. I hear you. The thing is, if you are living the kind of life where even some light reading in the evening seems like a huge imposition on your time, then cultivating this new habit is even more imperative because you stand to benefit the most from the additional stress relief.
According to research by the University of Sussex, reading can reduce stress levels by 68 percent. In fact, it is the best way to decrease cortisol levels compared to other relaxing activities such as listening to music or drinking hot tea. Immersing yourself in another world, even for a few minutes provides a much needed mental break, while engaging you in a different way that can promote empathy, and greater peace of mind.
“Knowing you have something good to read before sleep is amongst the most pleasurable things of sensations.” – Vladimir Nabokov
If you still aren’t convinced, and start feeling withdrawal symptoms at the mere mention of substituting your smartphone in the evening for good ol’ bound paper and ink, then realize just how much you stand to gain in cognitive functioning by making nightly reading a priority, rather than indulging the smartphone before bed habit.
It is well known that avid readers outperform those who don’t regularly read in a variety of cognitive tests, the benefits of which last well into advanced age. If you are in a cognitively demanding job, which is the case for many of us in knowledge fields, reading is a magic bullet of sorts that helps to decrease stress, improve cognition and help you sleep better.
You can find more time to read before bed by making simple tradeoffs
Daily reading before bed is incredibly beneficial so even if you just manage to do so a few times a week for as little as 15–20 minutes, you will be better off than before. It can become second nature, an integral part of your evening routine. One way I nudged myself towards my new habit was by making some simple tradeoffs.
I watch less TV now and stopped checking email earlier in the evening so that I could have additional time to read. Once you make the commitment, the next step is to stash plenty of books that you actually want to read. I am one of those rare people that still checks out books at the library, so that is my major go-to for reading material.
“Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.” – William Blake
Used bookstores, garage sales, thrift stores, your friends bookshelves, and of course the internet, will provide you with more reading material than you will ever know what to do with. So there is really no excuse for not having a new book around on a regular basis. The more you read, the more you will find new sources of inspiration for new books to read.
I keep a list in my phone of every book I hear about that sounds interesting, so I am never without reading material. One final tip is to remember that reading should be pleasurable. This is not 10th grade, where you had to get through The Crucible regardless of whether you liked it or not.
If you do not find yourself connecting with a particular author, or the story is just moving way too slow for your taste, then ditch the book. Life is too short to read things that you’re not absolutely thrilled about. Indulge in a good book and your mind and body will thank you.
What books are you going to start reading tonight? Please leave your thoughts below!
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