Can Reading Before Bed Help With Sleep?

I’m frequently asked about reading before bed and it’s a very interesting topic. Before I talk about that though, I wanted to say thank you.

I’m grateful to everyone who has taken my three question sleep survey about the content you’d like to see in these newsletters. If you haven’t had a chance yet, do me a favor and take it here and help me create the content you’d like to read.

Speaking of reading.

I am always excited to talk about the importance of an effective nighttime ritual and how it helps to prepare the body for sleep. This ritual can be composed of any number of small tasks like brushing your teeth, taking a bath or meditating. If you don’t have a ritual, my Power Down Hour makes a great guide. Just divide the last hour before bedtime into three 20-minute sections. The first 20-minute section should be spent taking care of any business than cannot wait until morning. The second should focus on hygiene: brush your teeth, wash your face, maybe a hot bath. During the final section, you should concentrate on something relaxing. Reading a book is a good choice. Reading, in itself, does not make you sleepy, but it distracts from the troubles of the day, making sleep easier.

I enjoy a book at bedtime and generally recommend that people read fiction at night rather than nonfiction. With fiction you are not being introspective or using a lot of brainpower, so it can be more relaxing. With nonfiction, the experience can feel more reflective and alerting. Here are a couple of other good rules for choosing a bedtime story. 

  • An exciting book might be memorable and fun, but a boring book will help you get to sleep faster. 
  • Avoid reading anything emotionally unsettling. 

Reading before bedtime may do more than help you get a good night’s sleep, too. According to a survey of 1,000 people by SleepJunkie, bedtime bookworms earned more money, made healthier choices and had a better outlook on life. Almost 50% of the survey participants cracked open a book before snoozing at least once a week and read for an average of 43 minutes. They said that reading books at night helped them to relax, increased their focus and improved their sleep. This might be why the book readers slept an hour and a half more per week than non-readers did. 

Readers also:  

  • Raked in the big bucks, making $3,705 more annually than their bookless counterparts. 
  • They were more likely to eat healthy foods and engage in healthy recreational activities.
  • Were more likely to see a doctor or a dentist on a regular basis. 
  • Seventy-nine percent of readers reported that they got the most out of themselves. Only 59% of non-readers made the same claim. 
  • Seventy percent of readers boasted they lived life to the fullest compared to 58% of non-readers. 

This survey paints readers in a very positive light, but I want to talk about another type of light that nighttime readers often find themselves under. That’s blue light. According to the very same survey, 72% of the survey respondents used technology in bed, and 61% said that technology caused them to stay up too late. Even the people who took the survey said that their technology was hurting their sleep quality. Seventy-four percent said that they were using too much tech in bed, and I agree with that 74% percent. 

Our phones, tablets and laptops emit blue light. This is not inherently a problem during the day because the sun also emits blue light, and it can even beneficial at the correct time. However, when someone is exposed to blue light at night it can suppress the production of the sleep hormone melatonin and alter circadian rhythms, leading to possible long-term health problems. People exposed to blue light at night tend to have more sleep interruptions and decreased sleep quality. 

I understand the convenience of reading a book on a phone or an e-reader. The dog is less likely to chew up your book, and electronic books are easier to transport when moving. However, paper books don’t emit blue light, so switching to old-fashioned books is a simple solution. If you want to stay high-tech, you can get a pair of blue light blocking glasses which allows you to read from your electronic devices in bed without suffering the negatives of nighttime blue light exposure. I developed high quality Sleep Doctor Glasses based on the most current research, which block blue light and fit conveniently on any nightstand or bedside table or in any travel bag. 

Personally, I read a lot of nonfiction during the day. Some of the recent books that I’ve read are Bad Blood, about the Theranos scandal, HYPE by Dr. Nina Shapiro and Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. Before bed though, I enjoy good murder mysteries and spy novels. My current favorite is the Vince Flynn series.  

I hope that whatever you’re reading brings you success, happiness and a good night’s sleep. 

Sweet Dreams,
Dr. Michael Breus

P.S. One of the things that surprised me most about the three question survey is that 50% of those who’ve responded said that they’d be buying a new pillow in the next 12 months. I’m excited to hear that because most people don’t replace their pillows often enough. A new pillow is the number one recommendation I have when people ask me what they can do to get a better night of sleep. Until I put together another article on pillows, I’d strongly suggest checking out Everpillow, it’s the pillow I sleep on and I love it because you can adjust the amount of fill (you can also buy additional or new fill which can extend the life of the pillow significantly)  and they even have a pillow called the Curve specifically designed for side sleepers.

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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!