If you’ve ever read for pleasure, you probably know at least some of what books have to offer.
For one, books can transport you to far-off places (daring sword fights and magic spells, anyone?). They can also teach you new things about the world you live in and help you access experiences and perspectives you might not otherwise encounter.
And if you’ve ever gotten lost in the pages of a thrilling adventure, you might also have some familiarity with the way a good book can make time speed by.
While you might find reading enjoyable at any time of day, reading before bed can offer some particular benefits. At the very least, it’s a low-key activity that can help you wind down when you don’t feel entirely ready to sleep.
It could, however, do quite a bit more, from easing emotional distress to promoting a more relaxed and peaceful state of mind.
A bedtime reading ritual might not be entirely new to you, if someone read to you in childhood. You might even have some early memories of drifting off to the soothing sound of their voice, or begging for one more chapter before they switched off the light.
But even if your family didn’t spend much time reading, it’s never too late to begin a bedtime reading habit. You’ll find tips for getting started below, along with more details on why reading before bed can have such a powerful impact.
Reading can be fun — but it doesn’t just provide entertainment.
It can also strengthen your brain by:
- boosting empathy
- increasing your vocabulary
- protecting against age-related cognitive decline
As for bedtime-specific benefits? Research suggests reading may help:
- Ease stress. If worries and other emotional distress keeps you lying awake long past your bedtime, picking up a book could make a difference. Reading for half an hour could provide just as much stress relief as doing yoga or watching comedy videos for the same amount of time.
- Improve sleep quality. A
2021 online studyconducted over social media asked 496 participants to read a book in bed before sleeping and 496 participants to not read a book before sleeping. After a week, 42 percent of the readers felt their sleep improved. To contrast, only 28 percent of the non-readers reported better sleep.
- Relieve insomnia. Regularly getting too little sleep can have a major impact on your physical and emotional well-being. But reading, when combined with insomnia treatment, could help decrease cognitive arousal — or “de-stimulate” your brain — before bed.
- Promote longer sleep duration. Maybe you don’t have trouble falling asleep, but you rarely get a full night of sleep. While reading long into the night could keep you from getting the amount of sleep you need, reading for a short time before bed may
help you stay asleep longer.
Some people even find that reading helps provide a positive distraction from painful or overwhelming emotions, including feelings of anxiety and depression that can disrupt sleep.
If you read something thoughtful or engaging before bed, it may feel easier to mull over what you read when you lie down to sleep, instead of the worries, doubts, and sense of helplessness that often characterize anxiety and depression.
Experts have yet to conduct any scientific studies exploring how reading could help ease anxiety and depression. That said, if reading distracts you from your worries and helps promote peace of mind, it’s not a huge leap to imagine that it could offer an escape from dark or racing thoughts.
Reading yourself to sleep could offer a temporary way to avoid getting locked in a spiral of distressing thoughts, especially as you wait for treatments, like therapy and medication, to take effect.
Bedtime reading has many of the same benefits for children as it does for adults, with some added bonuses.
A reading ritual can make up part of your child’s bedtime routine, for one. Experts by and large agree that bedtime routines, in general, promote development and overall well-being, along with better sleep. And reading, in particular, may help your toddler
What’s more, introducing books to your child at an early age could help them develop a lifetime love of reading. Pleasure reading can have particular benefits during the teenage years, when it can help encourage self-discovery, boost performance at school, and promote social and personal development.
Plenty of people prefer the full reading experience — the weight of the book, the smell of paper and ink, the texture of the pages.
Yet while the feel of a book in your hands might offer familiarity and comfort, you might not want to be hefting a heavy hardcover or holding a tightly bound paperback open as you become sleepy.
With the rising popularity of e-readers and apps that allow you to read on smartphones and tablets, you might wonder whether the format of your book matters. Do you have to read a hard copy, to get the benefits? Or is the mere act of reading enough?
The short answer: You’ll probably want to limit reading on a phone or tablet to the daytime hours — unless, that is, you have a dedicated e-reader with a monochrome screen that doesn’t emit blue light.
According to 2015 research, reading on a light-emitting electronic device exposes you to brain-stimulating blue light that can disrupt sleep by:
- interfering with your body’s production of melatonin
- reducing REM sleep
- delaying your circadian rhythm
- keeping you awake longer
- leaving you less alert in the morning
In other words, reading on a tablet or smartphone may negatively affect both the amount of sleep you get and the quality of that sleep. Reading on these devices, then, likely won’t do much to improve sleep — though it can certainly still offer other benefits.
Without a doubt, audiobooks make reading more accessible for blind people, along with people who:
- have temporary or partial vision loss
- are unable to hold a book due to illness or injury
- have difficulty reading or don’t know how to read
- have difficulty focusing on printed words
At bedtime, though, listening to an audiobook can relax just about anyone.
Just as a parent, sibling, or teacher reading aloud might have helped soothe you in childhood, listening to a favorite book or embarking on a new listening adventure can provide some calming entertainment before bed.
Plus, you can close your eyes and get comfortable while listening, without having to worry about holding up a book or avoiding blue light.
(And yes, listening to an audiobook still counts as reading!)
With nearly 130 million books to choose from, you might not know what book to pick up first, much less bring along to bed.
The best bedtime reading material can depend quite a bit on your personal taste and your reasons for reading before bed. You’ll generally need to do a little experimentation on your own.
A good starting place might involve choosing a book that:
- has a lighter storyline
- doesn’t frighten or disgust you
- isn’t dry or dull — or so exciting that you want to keep reading all night
To put it another way, “The Haunting of Hill House” and “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” might not make the best options for bedtime reading. Similarly, an engrossing thriller, even if it doesn’t scare you, might keep you turning pages late into the night.
Some people joke about reading dry or droning tomes, like the dictionary or a book of legal proceedings, in order to fall asleep, but where’s the fun in that?
Instead, consider revisiting a childhood favorite or choosing a classic you’ve meant to read for years. After all, giving yourself a story to eagerly anticipate can make bedtime more enjoyable, instead of something to dread.
You don’t necessarily need to purchase a book, either. Visit a library or neighborhood Little Free Library to borrow some at no cost.
Read more about the benefits of books — and how to access them for free.
Keep these final tips in mind to maximize the effects of reading before bed:
- Consider your location. Instead of reading at your desk or a hard chair at the kitchen table, find a comfortable spot where you can stretch out. You could even create a reading corner, if you have the space, with pillows, blankets, and soft lighting.
- Use the right kind of light. Turning off bright lights 2 hours before you go to bed can improve your sleep. Instead of bright blue light in the evening, switch to dim or amber lights. If you use a reading lamp, consider using an amber bulb.
- Create some ambiance. For an even more relaxing experience, try some aromatherapy or soft music without vocals.
- Get ready for bed beforehand. It might be worth doing pre-bedtime tasks, like brushing your teeth and washing your face, before you open your book. If reading is the last step before bed, you can snuggle under the covers as soon as you start to feel sleepy.
Should I avoid reading in bed?
Already explored a few expert tips for improving your sleep? If so, there’s a good chance you’ve come across some guidance suggesting you should only use your bed for sleep and sex.
This is sound advice — particularly when you regularly have trouble falling asleep.
Still, if reading in bed feels most comfortable and doesn’t affect your ability to fall asleep, you probably don’t need to ditch this habit.
Tip: Consider a reading pillow to read more comfortably in bed and skip the morning muscle aches.
Author Neil Gaiman said, “A book is a dream that you hold in your hands.”
There’s no denying that books can help you dream big, day or night. But diving into the pages of a book before bed might help you relax before you crawl between your sheets. Reading before bed, then, could promote restful sleep, and maybe even more interesting dreams.
One of the best things about reading? You don’t have to wait for it to take effect. So, give it a try: Pick up a book, and bring on the dreams.
Crystal Raypole writes for Healthline and Psych Central. Her fields of interest include Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health, along with books, books, and more books. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues. She lives in Washington with her son and a lovably recalcitrant cat.