Why Reading Before Bed Could Improve Your Sleep

A novel approach to nodding off.

Between the lure of high-octane Netflix dramas and the beckoning of bleeping smartphones, it can be all too easy to forget about the simple pleasure of reading a good book before bed.

In fact, according to a 2013 survey by The Books Trust, as many as 45% of those questioned preferred watching TV and DVDs to reading, while over half (56%) of those aged 18-30 preferred surfing the internet and being on social media to reading books.

But ditching the TV and Twitter in favour of a trusty old paperback before you hit the sack could be a valuable aid to getting a restful night’s sleep. Here are a few reasons why you might want to step away from your tech devices and get stuck into a page-turner tonight…

It can reduce stress

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With our technology driven 24/7 lifestyles, it’s little wonder so many of us go to bed with our minds still whirring from the stresses of the day. If, like many, you find it difficult to unwind and switch off at bedtime, a good book could be your best ally.

A 2009 study conducted by the University of Exeter, and reported in the Telegraph, found that reading was even more effective and quicker at reducing stress than those old relaxation stalwarts, taking a walk, drinking a cup of tea and listening to music.

In fact, the researchers found that just six minutes of reading could be enough to reduce stress levels by up to two thirds.

Cognitive neurologist, Dr David Lewis, who conducted the test, said: “Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation.”

And yes, that even goes for gripping page-turners like ‘Girl On A Train’.

“It really doesn’t matter what book you read. 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,” he said.

“This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.”

It can be part of a sleep-inducing bedtime ritual

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As any parent or parenting expert will tell you, establishing a relaxing bedtime routine is key when it comes to helping little ones to develop good sleep habits. But that tried-and tested formula of ‘bottle, bath and bedtime story’ doesn’t just apply to children. A nightly ritual of a warm (caffeine-free) drink, relaxing bath and a few minutes of reading in bed can act as a cue to your body and mind that it’s time to go to sleep.

“It’s possible to train yourself to associate certain restful activities and smells with sleep and make them part of your bedtime ritual,” says Jade Wells, a Physiologist at Nuffield Health. She suggests reading, alongside other relaxing activities, such as taking a warm bath and inhaling a soothing scent like lavender, as part of a wind-down routine to help induce sleep.

It gets you away from the TV

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Watching back-to-back episodes of *insert latest Netflix obsession here* might feel like a great way to take your mind off work and escape the banality of the real world, but compulsive TV watching can wreak havoc with your sleep patterns in two significant ways.

For one, that ‘one more episode can’t hurt’ attitude to consuming box sets could be contributing to your sleep debt, according to research. After all, if you stay up that extra hour each night when your body’s telling you it’s time to go to bed, by the end of the week you’ll have missed the equivalent of an entire night’s sleep. Those savvy screenwriters and their cliffhangers have got a lot to answer for.

Another problem is that the light emitted from the TV tells the body it’s still daytime, which can throw our internal body clock out of kilter.

“Television may be able to relax you and you might even fall asleep in front of it early in the evening but the blue light that TV screens emit is known to disrupt the release of your ‘sleepy’ hormone melatonin,” says chartered physiotherapist and author of The Good Sleep Guide, Sammy Margo. “As a result, this may impact not only on the quantity but the quality of your night’s sleep.”

The solution? Turn off the TV and head for the bookshelf…

... and your Twitter account

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Just as reading a book offers a viable alternative to watching TV, it also promises a distraction from the dangerous lure of social media. Like the TV, laptop, tablet and smartphone screens emit melatonin-disrupting blue light.

But compulsively checking your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds can have a negative impact on sleep in other ways, too. One study found that college-age adults who check social media sites during typical sleeping hours are more likely to suffer daytime tiredness and cognitive impairment, while another study of 1,788 young adults, conducted by the University of Pittsburgh, found that heavier users of social media were significantly more likely to experience disturbances to their sleep.

Experts suggest switching off your devices at least an hour before bed, which gives you plenty of time to get your teeth into a couple of chapters of your latest read. But while reading on an old-school Kindle is fine, avoid reading on an e-reader device that is backlit like a tablet screen.