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Insomnia relief: Reading is good (but not when you’re in bed)

Reading is often included in the list of 'relaxing activities' recommended to insomnia sufferers before bedtime. But hold your horses - you need make sure you're doing the right kind of reading!

Yes, apparently reading is good - as long as you aren't reading in bed. Apparently, as soon as you start reading in bed, you are associating your bed with an activity other than sleeping. Apparently, associating the bed with sleep and sex is good, anything else is bad - no matter how relaxing it might be.

We have to admit, most of the time we hear from people who tell us reading in bed helps them get off to sleep. So, once again we want to hear from you - does reading before bed help you sleep? More importantly, though - where do you do your bedtime reading?

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Last updated: April 30, 2010

This Article Was Written By

Martin Reed

Leave a Comment

  • Judabenhibius
    December 9, 2017, 9:01 am

    As someone with actual, serious, insomnia. The kind where you need drugs to sleep at night or you’ll be awake for days. Not the kind people usually think about ‘too much thinking’ or etc. No no, the real kind. Where your body feels like you should sleep, and simply doesn’t. And when I say no sleep for days, I don’t mean what people usually mean when they say that – only a few hours a night. I mean it literally. Days awake, like actual torture, no sleep, period, days awake. When you have that kind of insomnia, reading is not a good idea. It stimulates your mind. At the very least, it’s not a helpful idea, even if it didn’t have an effect at all.

    The single greatest thing for real insomnia, that I’ve found, that is natural, is first and foremost to get a lot of real sun during the day, as much as you can. And equally important is that you can drop your body temperature at night. A hot internal, or external, body, will keep you awake infinitely.

    Those are the most important. Now let’s go to the lesser importants, but still significant. Secondly to the above mentioned you need to keep a strict bedtime. Wake up at the same time, go to bed at the same time, and unplug from things that steal sleep at the same time, every night. This unplug part is the third most important, behind keeping regular hours, but it’s still important, let me explain.

    Exercise helps almost not at all, if you have real insomnia, and often, truly doesn’t help at all, but if you do exercise, do it massively early, and as far away from your time of sleep as possible, and don’t overdo it or it will keep you awake – as your body repairs its tissues etc. it will keep you awake.

    Do not ingest caffeine or any stimulant, if you must have it, have it before the second half of the day. You need to put a good 6+ hours between you and the stimulant in order to sleep and if you have very serious insomnia, you’d best treat caffeine the same as you treat exercise and take it as early in the day as possible, as far away from your sleep time as possible, or not at all.

    And finally, do not do anything mentally stimulating for at least three hours before bed. If you break this rule, you will not sleep. You might get lucky and sleep sometimes, despite this, but if you’re body is as broken as mine, you have a very slim chance and it’s best not to risk it.

    This means, contrary to popular opinion, no reading right before bed. Reading is overly stimulating. It stimulates all the wrong parts of your mind. The verbal, analytical side. And if you fall asleep after reading, know that you’ve fallen asleep DESPITE reading, that your body produced its melatonin and whatever other chemicals it needs to sleep and overrode your stimulating activity. In which case this article I’ve written is probably not for you. It means your body works normally, at least some of the time.

  • Solomon
    December 23, 2011, 8:02 pm

    I think what works best for individuals defers to a large extent. In my own case I stumble at thse site when I was searching for “table I can hang my book and read while on bed” i enjoyed reading while in bed be it early or late and this habit was formed long ago. I read my way through college that way, and now am doing my PhD, but am afraid I must confess if I go to the library I must sleep 30mins first and then I can read for the next 4hrs or more but aside that, I don’t know if I should stop it! o you What do you advice!

    • Martin Reed
      December 24, 2011, 5:10 am

      I’m similar to you – reading just sends me to sleep, which can be rather frustrating when I find a particularly good book! I think you should do what works for you – if that means reading helps you sleep, then stick with it!

  • Joe
    August 24, 2011, 11:11 pm

    I love reading in bed, it actually causes me to feel drowsy. And I’ve noticed that when I don’t read in bed, I have poorer sleeping habits, like staying up until all hours watching movies.

    • Martin Reed
      August 25, 2011, 2:42 pm

      Further proof that different things work for different people – I think that’s why there is no universal insomnia cure.

    • Gary
      September 1, 2011, 6:20 pm

      I think this probably is the general consensus–many folks I know “read themselves to sleep.” Not me!

  • Gary
    August 23, 2011, 5:42 pm

    I’ve discovered that I absolutely cannot read at night any time near bedtime. They say don’t watch TV right before bedtime if you have trouble sleeping, but I can turn off The Daily Show at 10:30 and fall asleep immediately. But if I read a little or a lot, I have trouble falling asleep, then toss and turn all night with thoughts of what I’ve read. It’s bizarre and never used to be this way. But it’s getting worse so I try to ready only early.

    • Martin Reed
      August 24, 2011, 2:36 pm

      That’s interesting; thanks for sharing. Maybe we use more of our brain when reading compared to watching television, making it harder for us to shut down and relax.

      • Gary
        September 1, 2011, 6:19 pm

        I’m inclined to agree. We’re probably much more focused when reading than when staring at a TV screen. Doesn’t take too much concentration there.

  • Martin Reed
    December 21, 2009, 9:16 am

    It certainly seems that way, Ursula – it’s like following a list of commandments. Lot’s of ‘do nots’ but not many ‘dos’!

  • Ursula
    December 20, 2009, 10:44 pm

    Guess what else we are not suppose to do in bed! LOL

    No kidding! According to similar studies, doing ANYTHING except sleeping in bed will create bad sleep habits.