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Reading At Night: Good Or Bad For Sleep? And Other Questions

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It’s Q&A Day at 10almonds!

Have a question or a request? You can always hit “reply” to any of our emails, or use the feedback widget at the bottom!

In cases where we’ve already covered something, we might link to what we wrote before, but will always be happy to revisit any of our topics again in the future too—there’s always more to say!

As ever: if the question/request can be answered briefly, we’ll do it here in our Q&A Thursday edition. If not, we’ll make a main feature of it shortly afterwards!

So, no question/request too big or small 😎

❝Would be interested in your views about “reading yourself to sleep”. I find that current affairs magazines and even modern novels do exactly the opposite. But Dickens – ones like David Copperfield and Great Expectations – I find wonderfully effective. It’s like entering a parallel universe where none of your own concerns matter. Any thoughts on the science that may explain this?!❞

Anecdotally: this writer is (like most writers) a prolific reader, and finds reading some fiction last thing at night is a good way to create a buffer between the affairs of the day and the dreams of night—but I could never fall asleep that way, unless I were truly sleep-deprived. The only danger is if I “one more chapter” my way deep into the night! For what it’s worth, bedtime reading for me means a Kindle self-backlit with low, soft lighting.

Scientifically: this hasn’t been a hugely researched area, but there are studies to work from. But there are two questions at hand (at least) here:

  1. one is about reading, and
  2. the other is about reading from electronic devices with or without blue light filters.

Here’s a study that didn’t ask the medium of the book, and concluded that reading a book in bed before going to sleep improved sleep quality, compared to not reading a book in bed:

Does reading a book in bed make a difference to sleep in comparison to not reading a book in bed? The People’s Trial-an online, pragmatic, randomised trial

Here’s a study that concluded that reading on an iPad (with no blue light filter) that found no difference in any metrics except EEG (so, there was no difference on time spent in different sleep states or sleep onset latency), but advised against it anyway because of the EEG readings (which showed slow wave activity being delayed by approximately 30 minutes, which is consistent with melatonin production mechanics):

Reading from an iPad or from a book in bed: the impact on human sleep. A randomized controlled crossover trial

Here’s another study that didn’t take EEG readings, and/but otherwise confirmed no differences being found:

Two hours of evening reading on a self-luminous tablet vs. reading a physical book does not alter sleep after daytime bright light exposure

We’re aware this goes against general “sleep hygiene” advice in two different ways:

  • General advice is to avoid electronic devices before bedtime
  • General advice is to not do activities besides sleep (and sex) in bed

…but, we’re committed to reporting the science as we find it!


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