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And that’s great news for their health, as there are many beneficial reasons to reach for a book.
Researchers at the University of Sussex showed that six minutes of reading reduces stress by 68%. Other researchers have shown reading to boost brain stimulation, increase empathy, improve creativity, sharpen the mind, and relieve mental health issues, chronic pain and dementia.
Let’s dive into the health benefits of reading, whether it’s OK to read in the evenings, and the best way to read before bed.
The Benefits of Reading in Bed
Diving into a book before bed may feel like a way to learn or escape, but it does so much more.
Reading can help reduce anxiety because it distracts us. And that’s no small feat: When dealing with anxiety, distraction from life stressors is a reasonable, evidence-based intervention.
It’s also relaxing, regardless of whether you’re battling anxiety or just battling too much stress. When researchers at The University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom conducted focus groups to determine why people read, they reported that, “One of the most frequently cited motivations for reading was that it provided relaxation and release from daily pressures. Most typically, it was a way of relaxing, particularly in bed at night.”
Whether it’s because we empathize with the main character of a novel, or because we’re reading as part of a book club, reading can also foster a sense of connection to others. The Centre for Research into Reading, Literature, and Society at the University of Liverpool in England tried “shared reading groups” as an intervention for people who suffer from chronic pain, and found the experience could improve a patient’s mood for up to two days afterward.
Lastly, reading can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness, two symptoms of depression. So, if low or stressed moods are contributing to your insomnia, reading can improve the chances of a good night's sleep.
How Does Reading Before Bed Affect Our Sleep?
Sleep specialists agree that establishing a regular bedtime routine is essential to setting the stage for achieving quality sleep. And reading can be a key component of an effective bedtime routine.
Opening a book around the same time each night sends the signal to your brain that it’s time for bed. That’s the conditioning aspect of why reading can make you sleepy. It also helps the brain shift from focusing on the real-life tensions you might be dealing with to a relaxed and imaginative state, a natural pathway to dreaming.
Which Method Is Best for Reading Before Bed — eReader or a Print Book?
Studies show exposure to blue light can negatively impact sleep. In a 2015 study, researchers found that the use of e-readers before bedtime prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep and reduces alertness the following morning.
Wearing blue-light-blocking glasses while reading might help diminish any negative impact the blue light has on your sleep.
SleepScore recommends blue-light-blocking glasses by Swanwick, which feature orange lenses that block more blue light than alternative versions. Styles include aviators, simple black frames and a fit-over pair designed to be worn with reading glasses.
If you read on a tablet, rather than an eReader, you can also try blue-light-blocking screen protectors, which you add directly to the screens of your devices, including your iPad. The screens both reduce eye strain and help to protect your screens from scratches and cracks.
Obviously, if you choose to read print books, you can completely avoid this issue with blue light.
However, if you travel frequently and enjoy reading multiple books at one time, carrying a stack of print books can be cumbersome, making ebook readers or audiobooks a better option.
Audiobooks, online audio recordings, and bedtime stories from meditation apps like Calm and Headspace are growing in popularity and might help you relax and get to sleep.
What’s the Best eReader to Use?
Considering which eReader features are most important to you will help determine the eReader that best fits your life.
While many prefer Kindles for easy access to Amazon’s massive book selection, there are several alternatives. Kobo and the Onyx are the two largest competitors.
Factors to consider in choosing an eReader or tablet are cost, size, screen lighting and how you’ll buy your books. Cost varies from about $49 for a basic Kindle Fire to $269 for the Amazon Oasis — with Kobo and Onyx offering multiple options in between.
Most eReaders are a standard size: 6-inch display. If you prefer something larger, Kindle Oasis is 7 inches and Kobo's Forma has an 8-inch screen.
In response to consumers’ concerns about blue light, Amazon released a “luxe” version, the Kindle Oasis. The new Oasis boasts a feature to adjust the color temperature of the display, tinting it yellow. Similar to the night-mode option on some smartphones, the color temperature feature reduces the harsher blue light and replaces it with a warmer, yellower tone.
Reviewers say that not only is the light more calming — it has the appearance of reading a paper book. Other eReaders also have lighting control, including a Night Mode on the Nook with a warm light option and the ComfortLight Pro on the higher end Kobo devices.
There are many reports comparing the various eReaders — if you’re buying your first, do a little research to explore the options.
What Are the Downsides of eReaders?
In addition to blue light, there are two other reasons you may prefer to consider visiting the library or independent bookstore for an old-fashioned book.
Disruption of your concentration from electronic notifications is one negative aspect of reading on tablets. The Panorama Project, a joint initiative of publishers, librarians and others, recently worked with researchers from Portland State University to survey 3,850 readers. Of those surveyed, 54% of participants reading on electronic devices reported multitasking while reading.
Finally, eReaders and devices need to be charged, and while the best models have a fairly long battery life compared to smartphones and tablets, there’s still the reality that you might lose battery power just before the murderer in your mystery is revealed.
Does it Matter What You Read in Bed?
Ideally, reading in bed will transport the reader and calm the mind. But what does that for you is a matter of personal preference. Only you know what type of book will take you away — whether it’s a romance novel about a trip down the Nile or an inspiring memoir.
“It really doesn’t matter what book you read,” says cognitive neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis, one of the researchers who worked on University of Sussex study. “By losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book, you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.”
After all, as Neil Gaiman says, “A book is a dream that you hold in your hands.”
Just one caveat: Most specialists recommend against choosing horror or intense thrillers if relaxing before bed is your ultimate goal.
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