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Reading Before Bed – A Self Care Guide for a Calmer, Healthier, More Successful You

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reading before bed

I recently reintroduced the habit of reading before bed and it has had such a calming and positive effect on my life. When I was younger I was an avid reader, easily devouring five to six books a week. Sometimes even staying up until the middle of the night because I just couldn’t put a certain book down.

This was all prior to the era of smartphones. Once those became ubiquitous, my daily reading was replaced with quick fixes of random internet articles, and way too much Candy Crush. The constant presence of my smartphone coupled with increasing demands on my time as I have gotten older, has resulted in reading fewer books just for the pleasure of it.

Reading before bed is not just a way for me to recapture some of the easier, quieter times of my childhood but a concerted effort to reduce stress while improving my health and happiness.

Reading before bed has many health benefits

Initially you may tell yourself that you can’t possibly add another thing to your already busy schedule, especially when all you want to do is collapse in bed at the end of the day and get some much needed sleep. I hear you. The thing is, if you are living the kind of life where even some light reading in the evening seems like a huge imposition on your time, then cultivating this new habit is even more imperative because you stand to benefit the most from the additional stress relief.

According to research by the University of Sussex, reading can reduce stress levels by 68 percent. In fact, it is the best way to decrease cortisol levels compared to other relaxing activities such as listening to music or drinking hot tea. Immersing yourself in another world, even for a few minutes provides a much needed mental break, while engaging you in a different way that can promote empathy, and greater peace of mind.

“Knowing you have something good to read before sleep is amongst the most pleasurable things of sensations.” – Vladimir Nabokov

If you still aren’t convinced, and start feeling withdrawal symptoms at the mere mention of substituting your smartphone in the evening for good ol’ bound paper and ink, then realize just how much you stand to gain in cognitive functioning by making nightly reading a priority, rather than indulging the smartphone before bed habit.

It is well known that avid readers outperform those who don’t regularly read in a variety of cognitive tests, the benefits of which last well into advanced age. If you are in a cognitively demanding job, which is the case for many of us in knowledge fields, reading is a magic bullet of sorts that helps to decrease stress, improve cognition and help you sleep better.

You can find more time to read before bed by making simple tradeoffs

Daily reading before bed is incredibly beneficial so even if you just manage to do so a few times a week for as little as 15–20 minutes, you will be better off than before. It can become second nature, an integral part of your evening routine. One way I nudged myself towards my new habit was by making some simple tradeoffs.

I watch less TV now and stopped checking email earlier in the evening so that I could have additional time to read. Once you make the commitment, the next step is to stash plenty of books that you actually want to read. I am one of those rare people that still checks out books at the library, so that is my major go-to for reading material.

“Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.” – William Blake

Used bookstores, garage sales, thrift stores, your friends bookshelves, and of course the internet, will provide you with more reading material than you will ever know what to do with. So there is really no excuse for not having a new book around on a regular basis. The more you read, the more you will find new sources of inspiration for new books to read.

I keep a list in my phone of every book I hear about that sounds interesting, so I am never without reading material. One final tip is to remember that reading should be pleasurable. This is not 10th grade, where you had to get through The Crucible regardless of whether you liked it or not.

If you do not find yourself connecting with a particular author, or the story is just moving way too slow for your taste, then ditch the book. Life is too short to read things that you’re not absolutely thrilled about. Indulge in a good book and your mind and body will thank you.

What books are you going to start reading tonight? Please leave your thoughts below!

Image courtesy of Twenty20.com

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Harsh

    Nov 20, 2018 at 10:07 pm

    We should never under estimate the importance of health – great article

  2. Trevor Jones

    Oct 18, 2018 at 4:25 am

    Desperate for help, with my sleepless nights I just can’t seem to turn my brain off. I wake up irritated from the night before usually. Most definitely going to have to get to the book store and get some books to read at night. Hopefully, it helps!

  3. Andre

    Jul 12, 2018 at 3:20 am

    This is really a well-researched article. Reading before bed should be the daily routine for everyone. I like this guide. Thank you.

  4. Ain

    May 4, 2017 at 3:07 am

    I am gonna continue reading The Maze Runner. I’m always tied up with my work until I forgot to allocate some time to actually read a book. So I think tonight is the night for me to start reading the novel back again. Thank you for such a good article.

    • Monica

      Jun 1, 2017 at 3:18 pm

      Thanks so much, I hope you enjoy the Maze Runner!

  5. Anjali Papreja

    May 3, 2017 at 8:25 am

    I am going to read “The Secret” today !!

  6. Nicah Caramba

    May 2, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    Hey, Monica!
    I don’t limit myself to printed books or articles before bed. I also listen to audio books, which have the same relaxing effect. I wake up feeling fresh and much more confident to take on the world. For some reason, I absorb more when reading before bed and then waking up much more motivated to apply what I’ve learned the following day.
    Right now I’m reading some of Brian Tracy’s materials and some of his audiobooks. 🙂

    • Monica

      Jun 1, 2017 at 3:20 pm

      I’m totally on board with the awesomeness of audiobooks. I especially love to listen to them as I’m driving into work, and sometimes when I’m just sitting at the computer, doing data analysis. I find them very soothing.

  7. Mitch Ferguson

    May 1, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    I completely agree. Reading a real paper book is good for you in many ways. It’s becoming a lost habit that we need to re-establish. As is good sleep. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Monica

      Jun 1, 2017 at 3:21 pm

      You’re welcome Mitch, reading is one of my favorite things. I’m glad you love it it too.

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When I hear someone using my name once in a while throughout the conversation we are having, I cannot stop myself thinking “this person must have read Dale Carnegie’s books or must have been influenced by someone who read them…” Have you just recalled a similar moment and it felt nice?

As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language”. Why did Dale Carnegie highlight the importance of an individual’s name to that person in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book published in 1936?

Each and every one of us wants to feel special and unique. I guess he recommends using the person’s name in the conversation because that is one of the easiest ways to grab that person’s attention so that we can enhance the chances of getting our point across. However, I am more interested in this from the other side; hearing our names directly addresses our individuality, our need or desire to feel special and unique.  

Let’s park this one for now and we will come back. 

Categorization is essential to our survival

There is countless scientific research telling us about how our brains recognize similarities and put things into categories, which has been crucial to our survival in evolution and still helps us with a lot of things from learning new things to coping with the continuous influx of massive amounts of information through our senses. 

The continuous influx of information is mostly handled by our subconscious mind rather than conscious. It is estimated that our brains receive about 11 million bits of information every second through our senses, of which only 40-50 bits can be processed by our conscious mind. We process more information than we are aware of. The magic here is the subconscious mind.

An example is when you are at a very loud party where you hear a lot of words flying around without you recognizing each one of them, then suddenly, you immediately catch it when you hear your name. Your subconscious had been processing all of those words, without your awareness, but informed your conscious mind when your name was out there because it was relevant to you.

In order to most effectively process this much information and inform the conscious mind with only the relevant ones, our subconscious employs categorization as one of its strategies.

When our ancestors encountered some deadly predators in the African savanna, their subconscious prompted their conscious mind to immediately fight or flight by categorizing the information gathered through their senses into “predator / life threat / take action”. Most probably we are not descendants of the ones that were frozen rather than fighting or flighting! 

Although it is a completely different situation, the same strategy applied in remembering lists. Let’s look at the below two lists.

  1. lion, eagle, shark, leopard, hawk, whale, panther, falcon and dolphin 
  2. lion, leopard, panther, eagle, hawk, falcon, shark, whale and dolphin

The second list is easy to remember because it is reordered into relevant groups even though the content of the both lists are identical.

Subconsciousness is the magic and categorization is one of its key strategies. It is essential to our survival, learning new skills and processing information as well as bringing back the information we had processed and stored. 

This amazing skill has its drawbacks

As a result of our brains’ categorization strategy, we also categorize people, especially if we don’t know them as well as our closest ones.

Imagine I am sitting at the table next to yours while you are having your favorite coffee and working on your computer or reading your novel at your neighborhood coffee shop. I stand up, very calmly grab your bag, and start walking away. Your reaction might be quite different depending on my outfit. It could be much more vocal and harsh if I have a dirty T-Shirt and a pair of torn jeans on. However, if I have some navy colored, 3-piece suit and well-pressed white button up shirt on, you might even say something like “Excuse me, you might have picked up my bag by mistake”. (There is an experiment done by social psychologists which reported similar results)

Similarly, I would not be surprised to hear that my co-worker’s spouse is very skilled and knowledgeable in English grammar and literature because he is an English teacher. However, I would not expect it from my co-worker herself because she is an outstanding chemical engineer.  

This is defined as unconscious bias or stereotyping, as a result of our subconscious brain’s categorization strategy. The outfit I have at the coffee shop impacts your response to my action, because it puts me into a different category in your mind depending on my outfit. My co-worker’s and her spouse’s backgrounds make me put them into different categories, which might mislead me sometimes.

Just like we categorize things, it is very natural that we categorize people.  

The key question here for me is; how do we truly treat people as individuals so that they feel unique, just like as they would want, while we know that our brains categorize people

We can overcome unconscious bias 

Leonard Mlodinow, in his enlightening book “Subliminal”, suggests that “if we are aware of our bias and motivated to overcome it, we can.” That doesn’t mean that we need to fight our brain’s categorization strategy. We just need to employ our conscious mind more when we are working or dealing with individuals. 

Our unconscious bias might tell us scientists are bunch of technical nerds who cannot understand abstract concepts that marketers are talking about or it might say that marketers are some daydreamers who need to be grounded by scientists to the real world all the time. I am an engineer and I love thinking in abstract terms and I worked with quite a lot of marketers who thought primarily in factual and concrete terms. 

Spending some effort to learn more about individuals will help overcome unconscious bias. Gathering more information and qualities about them will make it easier for us to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the category we put them in our minds. 

The moral of the story here is to recognize the fact that our brains do categorize, and it is essential; but also, to recognize that every individual wants to feel unique. When we appreciate these two and keep reminding them to ourselves, we are one step closer to figuring out our own way to overcome unconscious bias and treat people more like individuals. 

What was the most interesting part of this article for you? Share your thoughts below!

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