Many people curl up under the covers with a book as a matter of habit before turning off the lights. But not all nighttime habits are good ones: Watching television or scrolling Instagram, for example, can be detrimental to your sleep. We spoke with sleep experts to see if reading should be part of your bedtime routine.
Can reading before bed help you sleep?
Not everyone will benefit from reading at night, but some people will: Reading can provide comfort and joy before bed, which is helpful for managing stress. It can also help ease your brain out of the workday. “One of the main benefits of reading before bed is it actually allows our brain to move from ‘doing’ mode to ‘just being’ mode,” says Sarah Silverman, a sleep psychologist based in Orlando, Florida.
What matters is maintaining consistency in your evening routine. If reading is currently something you associate with sleep, don’t change your nighttime habit. “If it’s something that you’ve been doing for many years and is a way to be able to get to sleep… then keep it,” Silverman says. “Everybody is different in terms of what they really find relaxing and enjoyable before bed.”
What books are best to read before bed?
If curling up with a book is your nighttime jam, you also should know that what you’re reading before bed matters, says Silverman. “Reading something that is interesting and engaging, but not too mentally stimulating, could be [good] to read before bed–something that’s more along the lines of a crime novel or thriller…could really get the heart rate up,” she says. In other words, reading something that is too stimulating might keep you up.
You should also avoid books that might be emotionally distressing before bed, advises sleep psychologist Michael Breus, based in Los Angeles, California. Choosing light-hearted fiction books with short chapters will help you put aside the stress of the day without keeping you up late.
But what counts as arousing or distressing can vary by person: Breus likes to read spy novels before he goes to sleep, which some readers might find scary. A good rule of thumb to follow when selecting your next nighttime read: Non-fiction books can sometimes make people think harder than fiction, which is less relaxing, Breus says. Escaping into the fictional genre of your choice can help you drift off without providing unwanted mental stimulation.
Should you read in your bed?
If you’re reading at night, you might want to avoid doing it in your bed, which should be reserved solely for sleep, sex, and catching extra zzz’s while you’re sick, says Dr. Charlene Gamaldo, medical director of the John Hopkins Center for Sleep and Wellness in Baltimore, Maryland. Settling into a chair or couch will help your brain wind down from the stress of the day as you read and will train your brain to stop associating your bed with anything besides restful, restorative activities.
This is especially true for people who have trouble falling asleep. “If you’re reading in bed for too long and you struggle with getting to bed on a regular basis, that can create what we in the sleep world call ‘conditioned arousal,'” says Silverman. “Instead of the bed being this peaceful place for sleep, [the action of] reading in bed can sometimes blur sleep and wake together, and we really want to ensure that our bed remains a place for sleep.” However, she adds that if reading in bed has helped you fall asleep successfully, you don’t have to stop .
Are e-readers bad for sleep?
Modern reading can take many forms. Some people swear by paperbacks, while others prefer audiobooks, tablet or phone apps, or e-readers such as Kindles. The downside to electronic modes of reading is that some screens emit blue light, which can disrupt your body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin, making it more difficult to doze off. Blue light emissions vary by e-reader. The All-New Kindle Oasis, for example, has adjustable color temperature, meaning you can set it to emit sleep-friendlier orange light.
Still, the best way to read at night is with a physical book equipped with a clip-on book light that diffuses light downward to minimize the amount of glare directly in your eyes, says Gamaldo. Many such lights are available online. The DEWENWILS USB Rechargeable Book Reading Light, which has 4.6 stars from 1,455 customers on Amazon, has three brightness settings and emits amber light rather than blue light.
If no one will pry your e-reader from your hands, turn down its brightness all the way or even off, and use a clip-on reading light to illuminate the words. Similarly, if you must read on your phone or tablet, you can reduce blue light by using the devices’ night mode.
Silverman says personal preference is key here, too. If reading on a screen is easiest for you and it helps you sleep, it’s okay to continue doing it. “When it comes to reading before bed, I generally say there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach,” she says.
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