I’ve never had an easy time getting to sleep. From childhood onward, I’ve found the idea of being able to go to sleep the moment your head hits the pillow baffling. How do you just…stop thinking? It’s not something that gets any easier the harder you try, and I’ve spent many nights spiraling into panic about how little sleep I was going to get and how terrible I would feel in the morning.
As a lifelong book lover, you may think the solution to this is easy: read before bed. Isn’t that what all readers do? Oddly, this has never been a part of my routine. I’ve typically read on commutes, listened to audiobooks while doing chores, and crammed a lot of my reading into 24 hour readathons.
I always intend to read before bed. It sounds so luxurious. Sitting in bed with the blankets tucked around you, reading by the light of lamp. Maybe while sipping a mug of herbal tea. I even have it blocked off on my Google calendar, to read for an hour before bed. I have for years. But I never actually followed through on it.
One problem was that I didn’t have a bedside lamp, and A) reading by overhead light is just not the relaxing bedtime vibes I’m going for, and B) it ruins the coziness to have to roll out of bed and turn off the light. That’s an easy enough fix, though. Instead, it was an internal barrier that had kept me from establishing this routine: time.
While I intend to go to bed and read for an hour, or at least a half hour, often the day doesn’t go as I planned. I want to finish the last ten minutes of a TV show, or we decide to go on a longer dog walk, or I am feeling stubborn and not wanting to end the day just yet. At that point, I’d think: well, if I can’t read for even a half hour, what’s the point?
In my head, there was a minimum viable reading time. I wasn’t going to read for ten minutes because I’d hardly have time to get back into the book. Might as well skip it (and then spend three hours staring at the ceiling or cycling through 18 different sleep meditations). That’s where the reading statistic came in.
Recently, I read a short article that upended my (lack of) nighttime routine. It promised that six minutes (six!) of reading before sleep is more effective in getting a good night’s sleep than any other relaxing activity tested. It reduces stress by 68%!
Ever since reading that stat (and getting a lamp), I’ve been consistently reading before bed for the first time in my life. No matter when I get into bed, even if I should have already been asleep, I’ll read for at least six minutes, though almost always I will read more than that.
Just as the article promised, I do find it easier to fall asleep. But just as significant has been how it’s changed my relationship with reading. Ever since I started working from home, I haven’t had that commute to be my daily reading allotment, which has made it difficult to read consistently. Instead, for that last year I’ve read in fits and starts, often going weeks without picking up a book at all.
Now, I find I’m enjoying the books I’m reading more, because I feel more immersed in them. Even if I’m not reading a lot every day, I’m revisiting the story, and I am better attuned to the mood and style of the book. When I was going days (or weeks) between chapters, it was jarring to pick the book back up again, and it was hard to think of the narrative as a whole.
This is the kind of thing that’s frustrating in its simplicity. Why haven’t I been doing this for years? But it was the permission that statistic gave that was the impetus for me to try: I didn’t need to read for an hour a day. I could just dip into a book briefly and still reap the rewards of a calming activity before sleep. And now, I’m finding lots of other benefits to this habit, too.