Read Books (but Don't Eat Them) Before Bedtime

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

I used to read in bed every night when I was a kid. There was a light that shone down on our back yard right outside my window when I was growing up, so even when my bedroom light was out, I still had a sliver of light to read by. (Yes, I’m nearsighted, so no, I don’t recommend squinting in darkness to get your literary fix.) But I was unstoppable.

I’d get so absorbed in my daytime reading, curled up happily in a big armchair, that I was completely oblivious to my surroundings. Sometimes my brothers would throw things at me to see if they could jar me out of my reading trance, and only occasionally did it work.

As a kid, I loved the Narnia series so much that I’d tear off bits of paper on the page underneath the print, and, well, eat them. It’s weird, I know that. I remembered that recently, when my daughter came in to report on my son for doing the exact same thing, and I felt oddly proud.

So should you eat your books? No. But you should be reading them before bed, instead of turning to TV or Candy Crush or web surfing, because you’ll get more sleep, improve your cognitive skills, have longer-lasting memories, and exercise your brain. We spend all this time and money on working our bodies, but we forget all about our brains, without which we’d be nothing. Another benefit of reading: You’ll develop more empathy for other people, and that means you’ll be a better person.

And while TV, another love of mine, can take me to outer space, show me what it’s like to fight terrorists, teach me how to perform a tracheotomy with the parts of a ball point pen, and even inspire me to pursue my first career (thank you, Mary Tyler Moore), it’s reading that made me see the world not through my eyes, but through someone else’s. I’ve lived through the Cultural Revolution in China. I’ve walked the Pacific Coast Trail. I’ve lived in poverty in India, survived slavery in America, looked at the world from behind a disfigured face, become a superhero, and grown up Amish.

But in the past few years, I’ve forgotten about nighttime reading, and settled into a life of TV plus tablet games plus Facebook, and I’ll tell you something, I feel a little dumber for it.

Cognitive neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis says, “It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.

“This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.”

I’ll try it if you will.

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