I’ve never had trouble falling asleep. Since childhood, I have found the idea of being able to fall asleep the moment your head hits the pillow disconcerting. How do you… stop thinking? It’s not something that gets easier the harder you try, and I spent many nights freaking out about how little sleep I was going to get and how bad I would feel the morning.
As a lifelong book lover, you might think the solution to this problem is simple: read before bed. Isn’t that what all readers do? Oddly, it was never part of my routine. I generally read while commuting, listened to audiobooks while doing chores, and crammed much of my reading into 24-hour readathons.
I always intend read before bed. It looks so luxurious. Sitting in bed with the covers folded around you, reading by lamplight. Maybe sipping a cup of herbal tea. I even blocked it on my Google Calendar, to read an hour before bed. I have for years. But I never really followed up.
One problem was that I didn’t have a bedside lamp, and A) overhead reading just isn’t the relaxing bedtime vibe I’m looking for, and B) it ruins the comfort of having to step out of the bed and turn off the light. It’s a pretty easy fix, though. Instead, it was an internal barrier that kept me from establishing this routine: time.
While I plan to go to bed and read for an hour, or at least half an hour, the day often doesn’t go as planned. I want to finish the last ten minutes of a TV show, or we decide to take our dog for a longer walk, or I’m feeling stubborn and don’t want to end the day just yet. At that point, I was like, well, if I can’t read for even half an hour, what’s the point?
In my head, there was a minimum viable play time. I wasn’t going to read for ten minutes because I would barely have time to immerse myself in the book again. Might as well skip it (then spend three hours staring at the ceiling or going through 18 different sleep meditations). This is where the reading stat came in.
Recently I read a short article that turned my (lack of) nighttime routine upside down. He promised that six minutes (six!) of reading before bed is more effective in getting a good night’s sleep than any other relaxing activity tested. It reduces stress by 68%!
Since reading this stat (and buying a lamp), I’ve been reading regularly before bed for the first time in my life. It doesn’t matter when I go to bed, even if I should have already slept, I will read for at least six minutes, although almost always I read more than that.
Just as the article promised, I find it easier to fall asleep. But just as important was how it changed my relationship with reading. Since I started working from home, I haven’t had that commute to be my daily reading allowance, which has made it difficult to read consistently. Instead, over the past year I read in spurts, often going weeks without picking up a book at all.
Now I find that I enjoy the books I read more, because I feel more immersed in them. Even though I don’t read a lot every day, I revisit the story, and I’m better attuned to the mood and style of the book. When I went days (or weeks) between chapters, it was shocking to pick up the book, and it was hard to think about the narrative as a whole.
It’s the kind of thing that’s frustrating in its simplicity. Why haven’t I done this for years? But it was the authorization given by the statistics that pushed me to try: I didn’t need to read an hour a day. I could just briefly dive into a book and reap the rewards of calming activity before sleep. And now I also find many other benefits to this habit.
Do you have the opposite problem to me and have trouble staying awake while reading? Here’s why you fall asleep while reading and here are some tips for staying awake while reading.