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I tried the oldest trick in the book for falling asleep – and it's working wonders.

| By Annika Tague | Journal

The Forgotten Before-Bed Ritual Proven to Send You to Sleep

I tried the oldest trick in the book for falling asleep – and it's working wonders.

As I enter my thirtieth year, I’m coming to appreciate the little things. Or rather, the important things. Good coffee, slow mornings. Sunshine, rain, cuddles with my cat and dog. A good book, and an even better sleep. It turns out, through some trial and error, that a lot of these things go hand in hand.

Finding a recipe for good sleep took some practice. Sometimes I would fall asleep quickly, the long, hard-working day leaving my body in a rush and entering a fretful sleep, filled with dreams and waking every couple of hours. Other times I would lay awake for hours, staring at the blackened room and listening to my partner snore soundly, while I wondered why the heck I couldn’t switch my brain off.

I started to take note of my activity before bed. If it had been a good sleep, what had I done in the hours leading up to it? Sometimes I’d had a sleepytime tea, put lavender oil on my pressure points, and tucked my phone away early.

The most common thread with a good sleep, however, was having read my book in the hour before bed. We may have all done it as children, but as you get older (and more reliant on devices) you forget the age-old ritual of reading before bed is a classic for a reason.

There were times when I’d barely make it through ten pages, and others where I’d be furiously burning through chapters because it was simply unputdownable. It didn’t matter, it worked wonders.

Does reading help you sleep better?

I had heard that reading reduces stress by up to 68%, but I had convinced myself I wasn’t stressed. This is still up for debate, but bringing my cortisol levels down prior to bed was a key player in a good night’s sleep. Turns out, there are some facts behind it too.

An online study conducted in 2021 asked 496 participants to read a book before going to bed and another 496 people to go to bed without reading a book. After a whole week, 42% of the readers claimed they experienced a better night’s sleep. They woke up less often and slept for longer periods than they had previously.

How does reading before bed help you sleep?

So, it is a thing. I wasn’t imagining it, but it was interesting to learn about how it works. Research suggests that having something be a part of a ‘bedtime routine’ helps send signals to your brain that it is officially sleepy time. In tandem with my nighttime tea and lavender essential oil, these little steps all signalled a pattern to my brain that exists only before bed.

Getting in your bed before actually falling asleep allows your body to physically relax. Tucking into my crisp linen sheets after an intense pilates class and a day spent hunched over my desk is like melting into the evening. My muscles can officially let go of any tension they’re holding onto, while I’m snuggled up with a good book.

Allowing your brain to focus on something, anything, other than your personal thoughts helps to calm the mind. While it doesn’t necessarily matter what you read before bed, it’s ideal if it's something that takes you away from the thoughts and worries spinning in your head. Fiction is the perfect escape from reality and allows your brain to really switch off from the daily responsibilities that command so much of your attention.

On top of all that, avoiding exposure to harsh blue light emitting from your phone and laptop can help with better sleep. Avoiding excess light in the hour before bed allows your brain to release more melatonin (that handy sleep hormone), whereas sitting in front of a screen tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime (which prevents you from releasing melatonin) and makes falling asleep much more difficult. While your eReader will emit some blue light, thank goodness you can turn this right down to make reading easy on the eyes and mind.

The takeaway

Reading before bed isn’t a new phenomenon for me – it’s something I’ve done since childhood. However, the regularity and consistency of it were lacking. It wasn’t a nightly ritual, but now it is. Each evening begins and ends the same way: I slip into my sleepwear, light a candle, turn down the overhead lights, climb into my sheets and prop myself onto my pillows, a good book in hand. I make sure to set my alarms and switch my phone to bedtime mode before I begin my reading so that the pages are my very last activity of the day. My sleep health and my overall moods are better for it.

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