Reading Before Bed


Written by Leigh Saner

Our Editorial Process

Table of Contents

Reading before bed is a popular activity for people of all ages. Experts frequently recommend reading as a relaxing activity to incorporate into a bedtime routine to support healthy sleep in adults. For children, being read to at bedtime can nurture a love of reading and help the brain to associate reading with sleep. 

Explore the benefits of reading before bed, as well as the advantages of different reading formats, tips for what to read, and how to make reading a regular part of your bedtime routine.

Benefits of Reading Before Bed

Reading before bed is one of a handful of sleep hygiene strategies that can help foster a good night’s rest. Taking time to read in the minutes and hours leading up to bedtime can help reduce stress and allow your mind and body to relax. Reading prior to sleep has also been shown to help children’s brains develop and reduce cognitive decline as you age.

Relaxation and Stress Reduction

Experiencing some stress and worry is a normal part of life. Yet even a little stress can negatively affect sleep. A leisurely activity like reading can help to reduce feelings of stress and the effects of stress on the body.

The body responds to perceived stressful situations by going on alert, increasing heart rate and blood pressure. This heightened state, called the stress response, can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

For those who experience difficulty falling asleep, reading may help to reduce pre-sleep arousal. In a state of pre-sleep arousal, physiological and mental processes are active. Examples of pre-sleep arousal include having a difficult time quieting the mind or having an increased heart rate. 

A bedtime ritual that includes relaxing activities, such as reading, can be useful to help calm both the body and mind. A state of relaxation prepares the body to enter into sleep by lowering the heart rate and blood pressure and quieting thoughts.

Talk with your health care provider if stress or worry interferes with your sleep despite your efforts to relax. They may be able to suggest relaxation techniques and other tools to help improve your sleep.

Cognitive Benefits

In addition to helping people relax and reduce stress, reading can help to stave off cognitive decline later in life and enhance brain development in children. 

Reading involves all aspects of cognitive function and every region of the brain. It taps into the brain’s ability to comprehend different types of information, such as seeing and recognizing letters, understanding what the words mean, and synthesizing a text’s deeper meaning. 

As people age, it can become more difficult for the brain to think, learn, and retain information. To support brain health, experts recommend performing mentally stimulating activities like reading a book or magazine. Engaging in activities that rely on brainpower can even protect against neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

Reading may also help to support healthy brain development in children. Interactive reading between a child and their caregivers can help to improve a child’s vocabulary and language development. In the long term, reading to a child can help improve their success in school. 

Experts recommend reading to children 20 minutes a day. For this reason, snuggling up with a book before bed can be a good activity to incorporate into your child’s bedtime routine. 

Reading to Children Before Bed

Research suggests that children who have a consistent bedtime routine that includes things like reading or storytelling may sleep longer. It can also help them to improve their performance in school.

Reading a paper book to a child before bedtime may also be a good alternative to them using an electronic device, such as a tablet or phone, in bed. Use of electronic devices close to bedtime can have negative effects on sleep quality and quantity. 

Incorporating reading into your child’s bedtime routine also helps solidify healthy sleep hygiene later in life. 

Incorporating Reading into Your Bedtime Routine

Following a bedtime routine can help you achieve better sleep. A bedtime ritual signals to the brain that it is time to shift from daytime activities to nighttime sleep. Reading before bed, as part of this routine, can help to signal this transition.

Establishing a new bedtime routine that includes reading can be accomplished with a few simple steps.

  • Have a Plan: Know why it is important for you to add reading to your pre-bedtime routine. Get clear about what goal you are hoping to achieve. 
  • Take Baby Steps: Begin by taking just a few extra minutes before bed to read a page or two of a book or magazine. Setting yourself up to succeed by taking incremental steps will help to reinforce this new healthy habit.
  • Celebrate Your Success: Acknowledge yourself for the intention you have set to establish a new healthy habit and the effort you are undertaking to accomplish that goal. 

What to Read Before Bed

When choosing what to read before bed, everyone’s preferences are different. What might be a relaxing read for one person may not be for someone else. 

While there is a lack of scientific evidence for which reading materials are best to lull you to sleep, publishers and booksellers suggest staying away from anything scary or upsetting. The best book to read before bed is one that is engaging but not too engrossing.

For adults, booksellers and publishers recommend reading anything that is calming, whimsical, or even boring. Genres like romance novels, science fiction, short stories, and books about sleep health can do the trick. For children, booksellers recommend reading to or with children any age-appropriate fantasy, bedtime story, or board book.

About The Author

Leigh Saner

Staff Writer

Leigh is a freelance wellness writer and a national board-certified health and wellness coach based in Greenville, North Carolina. With a master’s degree in public health, she has been a coordinator of health services at the Edgecombe County Health Department in North Carolina. She enjoys researching health information and synthesizing it to support health literacy and well-being. Leigh is particularly passionate about providing practical ways for people to reduce stress and adopt healthy lifestyle practices to improve sleep quality.

  • POSITION: Side Sleeper
  • TEMPERATURE: Neutral Sleeper
  • CHRONOTYPE: Dolphin

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