Don’t Read Non-Fiction Before Bed

Published on 2/17/2021

Non-fiction is one of the largest growing trends in publishing, with revenues for adult non-fiction surpassing fiction for the first time. This includes all brands of non-fiction, but particularly biographies and self-help books. There’s room for everyone when it comes to books, but there’s also a time and place for each.

And the time and place for non-fiction aren’t before bed; it is during any other point of your day. Replace your evening read with a fiction novel, to ensure that you get the most out of what you’re reading and don’t disrupt your sleep quality.

Here’s why you need to stop reading non-fiction before bed, and instead relegate it to a coffee break.

  1. 1. Getting the most out of your book

There are many reasons that drive people to read non-fiction books, but primarily they serve to educate and inspire. You have something to learn from this book, whether it’s the memoir of someone successful, a book about improving as a writer, or merely a self-help regarding getting the most out of your life. All of which have value.

But since this is a predominant factor in choosing non-fiction, it makes little sense to read them before bed then. By the end of the day, your mind has used up a lot of its energy and focus. This is dependent on your body clock, so can differ for night owls, but for the majority, we aren’t as productive or effective by the evening.

So if you’re sitting in bed with your non-fiction book, it’s likely that you’re taking little of it in. You’re reading lessons and tips, but not engaging in them, and so it is less likely that you’ll end up using them or even remembering clearly by morning. You might open your book next time and wonder how you even got to that point, forcing yourself to reread previous parts and waste time.

Does the same apply to fiction? Most likely not, as fiction utilises different paths within your brain. It requires less concentration, and more emotion and imagination.

  1. 2. A moment of pleasure

In an ideal world, we would love everything that we do. From the moment we wake until we finally rest our heads on our pillow, we would only do things we want. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world yet, and whilst you should craft a life that makes you happy, a few dreary tasks will likely muscle their way in.

From grocery shopping to answering emails, cleaning the toilet to listening to your friend tell the same story yet again, our life is filled with obligations. But never let reading become one of them.

Reading should be for pleasure, whatever book it is, whenever you steal the time to read. You have had a day filled with obligations or commitments, so take the time you read before bed to be just for you.

Give yourself a moment of joy before you sleep, uninterrupted time with a good story. End your day in the best possible way, not by stretching your mind or using what little energy you have left to focus, but rather sinking into a good story.

  1. 3. Benefits of reading fiction

But that’s not to say that there are no benefits to reading fiction. Too many people consider reading fiction to be beneath them; they think only non-fiction can garner value for you. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

  • Stress relief. Reading fiction has been shown to puts our brains in a trance-like state similar to meditation, The New Yorker says. It is a moment of pure stress-relief, rare in our fast-paced society.
  • Empathy building. Reading fiction allows you to experience multiple realities and consider different perspectives. Individuals who read fiction have been shown to have higher levels of empathy.
  • Creativity. Whether or not you work in a creative field, we could all use a little more imagination and flair. Reading fiction builds this skillset and boosts your creativity.
  • Escapism. Now more than ever, we could all use a break from reality.
  • Reflection. Reading fiction can give you the space and peace to reflect on matters. To see yourself in characters, or recognise others. It can help you to process your thoughts or work through difficult events.

There are dozens of more benefits to reading fiction, so don’t be too quick to write it off! Reading can be for pleasure and purpose.

  1. 4. Quality of sleep

And one of these benefits is improving your quality of sleep! First, let’s look at how fiction helps your quality of sleep, following that we’ll consider why non-fiction doesn’t.

We live in a culture fixated on hustle culture, pushing yourself past your limits and competing in who is the busiest. This is detrimental to our sleep, and therefore detrimental to our health. It isn’t a flex to not get the sleep you need; there’s nothing to be proud of in prioritising everything else over your sleep.

Reading assists you in achieving better sleep quality and extended length. You naturally calm down your mind and body, preparing to enter the state of rest quickly.

I read for a minimum of ten minutes before going to sleep, and since doing so, my quality of sleep has significantly improved. You stay off your phone, you empty your mind, and you release pleasurable hormones, like dopamine.

But reading non-fiction reduces the effect, as you’re preoccupied with your thoughts. You’re steps ahead to tomorrow, whilst you should use reading to align your focus to the present and close your day.

“Do not read non-fiction prior to bed, which encourages projection into the future and preoccupation/planning. Read fiction that engages the imagination and demands present-state attention.” - Tim Ferriss.

By working your mind, you’re not ready for the state of sleep, and so the quality of sleep will be impacted by it. You’re gearing up your mind to continue rather than to slow down.

“With fiction you are not being introspective or using a lot of brainpower, so it can be more relaxing. With nonfiction, the experience can feel more reflective and alerting.” - Dr Michael Breus, The Sleep Doctor.

As with everything, there are exceptions, but if you’re working on improving your sleep quality, then pick up a guilty pleasure paperback. Keep it on your bedside table, and implement the micro habit of reading every evening before sleep. If you really want to maximise your chances, opt for something calmer/more lighthearted rather than a thriller or horror.

Non-fiction books have a purpose and place in our lives and our homes, which isn’t the bedside table. Instead, use your alert hours to enjoy non-fiction books and gain all that you can from them. Read one during your lunch break, your commute or to fill the time in a waiting room.

You don’t have to commit to just one book at a time, instead, play the field and enjoy two books at any given point. Your fiction can wait patiently on your bedside table, whilst your non-fiction gets to see the world from your bag. Fulfil both of your needs and get the most out of the books whilst you do.

More on reading fiction

Can reading make you a better person?

How reading fiction can boost your mental health

5 habits that helped me to read 35 books in 2020



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