Reading Before Bed: a Habit Your Brain Will Love

Reading Before Bed: a Habit Your Brain Will Love
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 February, 2022

Reading before bed is more than a habit, it is a pleasure. It is a way to unwind after a day full of activity and worries. When you read before bed you have a private moment to immerse yourself in a sea of words. It is a world of possibilities that takes your mind to exciting new places. This habit is one of the favorites of the brain because it loves to be nourished, stimulated, and seduced every night…

Some people switch off the light when they finish the last chapter of their book. They experience an intoxicating pleasure that comes along with heavy eyelids and a calm mind. Reading takes their mind away from this world and into a dream world. Other people turn the light off in the wee hours after watching a few episodes of their favorite series. Others fall into bed after spending a few hours on social media, email, or Whatsapp.

“There are only two things that you can go to bed with: a person, and a book.” 

-Ray Bradbury-

All of us have our own habits and lifestyles. Whether we like it or not, our bedtime routines significantly affect our quality of life. Reading before bed has been a tradition for thousands of years, but these days it is in danger of extinction. 

The fact that fewer people are reading before bed is a shame. Not only that, it’s a way of neglecting your health and your brain. Let’s take a closer look at this idea.

The unexpected benefits of reading before bed

Taking a relaxing shower, putting on some comfy clothes, making a hot tea, and going to bed with a book is simple, cheap, and gratifying. What’s more, in many ways it can change your life.

If you think this is a bit of an exaggeration, all you have to do is take a look at what science has to say on the subject. Reading before bed is, at the end of the day, a simple path to happiness that we shouldn’t give up. 

An effective form of relaxation

A study from The Sleep Council in the United Kingdom reached some very interesting conclusions. From what we can tell, reading for thirty minutes to an hour significantly reduces your stress levels. 

  • When you read, you distract your mind and escape from everyday pressures and concerns. You can feel free, safe, and you can get some perspective on things.
  • Likewise, studies show that when reading, your muscles relax. What’s more, your breathing slows and becomes more rhythmic.
  • Experts believe that reading is the best alternative to TV or electronic devices. The latter “trick” your brain by making it believe that it is still daytime. That’s because the blue light of the screens directly reduces melatonin production.
children reading before bed

Reading improves our cognitive resistance

In spite of the fact that we still don’t have a cure for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, there is one thing that we do know. It’s possible to train our brains to be stronger and more resistant to cognitive decline.

One way to do that is by reading. Reading before bed is even better, because it further optimizes brain processes. You will better manage stress, sleep better, stimulate your memory, mental agility, imagination… There are so many benefits.

Jumpstart your creativity

A relaxed mind is a creative mind. If you feed your brain on stories, lessons, tales, possibilities, and wonderful discoveries every night, you are boosting your imagination. Your brain becomes more inventive, original, and creative. Experts in reading psychology like Keith E. Stanovich, of the University of Toronto, believe that there are few habits that are so beneficial for children.

Reading helps children improve their cultural awareness, vocabulary, and expressive abilities. Not only that, but it helps them develop abstract thought.

Improved empathy

Raymond Mar, a psychologist at the University of York in Canada, believes that reading helps us be more empathetic. He has done more research on the topic than anyone else in his field. He argues that novels and  stories offer a unique opportunity to develop that capacity. We identify with characters and we suffer, laugh, and love alongside them…

That all leaves its mark on us. It invites us to improve our capacity for empathy. Likewise (as strange as it may seem) reading before bed further enhances this benefit. Before bed, we pay more attention to what we are reading. Consequently, we are more focused and able to capture those emotions and they come alive in our brains.

Promotes inner calm

Few things are worse than going to bed in a bad moodMaybe you are annoyed after a complicated day at work. Or maybe you argued with your partner, or are worried about the news. You can’t stop thinking about what happened yesterday, or what you have to do tomorrow.

One way to “break” this stressful cycle is to read a book. Reading a book is like getting a direct ticket to a peaceful island. It allows you to be someone different, do something different. You can change skin, and go on a mission. For an hour or two, you can allow yourself to connect to a parallel universe. Spending time in this imaginary world helps you rest in this one.

So what are you waiting for? Give yourself these few daily moments of peace. Train your brain in the art of calm and relaxation. Don’t hesitate to pick up this habit and do it every night. It’s worth it, for your health and sanity. Pick up a real book (not an electronic one) and let it take you where it will. 

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.