Reading to fall asleep can be a double-edged sword. Reading something dull can help you drift off, but if you find yourself caught up in your new favorite novel, you could still be up ‘til 3 in the morning. So how do you decide what—and whether—to read at bedtime?
If you’re having trouble sleeping in the evening, a little light reading may do the trick. If you wake up in the middle of the night, it gets trickier. Here are three questions that can help you decide what’s right for you.
1. Is your bedtime routine working for you?
If you have a regular bedtime routine, you’re on the right track. If you crawl into bed feeling sleepy and drift off at the same time every night, you probably don’t need to add reading to the schedule. Stick to what works. If you’re falling asleep well but still waking up in the middle of the night, read on.
2. Do you have a place to read outside the bed with relatively low light and a clear path back to your bed?
In general, sleep specialists recommend keeping the bed as a place only for sleep and sex. Getting into bed should trigger your brain that it’s time to sleep, not time to stay awake reading. If you want to read in the middle of the night, get up, leave the room, and read elsewhere in your home.
If nighttime wakefulness is a regular problem, set up a chair with a reading light and a book before bedtime. Use a night light or other low illumination to help you get from your bed to your reading chair and back, so that bright lights don’t jolt you back to wakefulness when you return to your bedroom.
3. Are you a student, or do you bring your work home?
Opinions are split on this one. Some experts recommend studying or reading a document from work to fall asleep. Others say bringing daytime stresses into nighttime hours can trigger feelings of stress and hurt your chances of sleep, rather than help them.
The Bottom Line
Find what works for you. If you have reading material that you know will make you drowsy, go for it. Your brain consolidates memories while you sleep, so you may find that you remember the material you read better than you expect when you wake the next morning. If you’re struggling to sleep, experiment with reading for a week or two to determine whether it’s the natural sleep aid you’ve been looking for.
Do you like to read before bed? When you wake up at night? What works for you?