Our minds and attention are scattered frequently throughout the day. Stimuli in our times are off the charts and for most of us, the day doesn’t end once we get home. Emails, social media, Netflix, social obligations, workouts, work emails, and everything else that makes up our busy lives is a 24/7 business. A nightly decompressing routine and “time outs” can be very difficult to incorporate into our routines when it feels like we’re plugged into the matrix, Keanu style.
But therein lies the choice we all have to make. Do you stay plugged in and be “productive” or do you prioritize the restorative ritual that is nighttime and sleep? This can be a difficult decision to make because of the all the ways we’re interconnected, particularly when cultural norms are applied.
Work followed us home
A shift happened when Blackberries and smartphones made their way onto the hips (remember the belt holders!?) and in the hands of every corporate worker. Apply the American machismo of working long hours, and there went the segregation of home and work. Got an email 20 hours ago from a client? Answering more than 24 hours is unacceptable. Living in an on-demand world requires timeouts.
Enter wind down time.
The value of a decompressing strategy is lost if your hand and eyes are glued to one of the multiple blue screens in our homes. With everyone’s life/work/play/survive formula varied and unique, what works for one, may not work for others. That said, we want to focus on reading as an effective strategy for restoration, performance and good “sleep hygiene.” For other sleep tips & routines, check out our post on sleep here.
So, why reading?
We list benefits below but look at reading as a form of productive meditation. You calm your mind, expand your vocabulary and there’s no screen! Our brains are forced to come to center, quiet the noise, concentrate and digest word by word, line by line. After a long day of work or school and as all the new experiences, conversations beg for our attention, reading can be a great tool and routine to help reel in everything scattered about.
Dr. David Lewis, a cognitive neuropsychologist found in a 2009 study, “Galaxy Stress Research, at Sussex University that “…reading is 68% better at reducing stress levels than listening to music; 100% more effective than drinking a cup of tea; 300% better than going for a walk and 700% more than playing video games. Reading for as little as 6 minutes is sufficient to reduce stress levels by 60%, slowing heartbeat, easing muscle tension and altering the state of mind.”
- The drawbacks of screen time before bed are staggering - the screens we use on a daily basis (from phones to TVs, and computers) emit a lot of blue light. Blue light is known to stimulate the brain and make us more alert. Moreso, blue light is known to block the secretion of melatonin (a hormone that makes us sleepy at night) into our system. Reading can help encourage healthy sleep by getting us away from our screens for the two hours before bed. Just be sure to use a gentle light when reading.
- Reading can actually help make you a more understanding person. All developed adults have something called “theory of mind”. Generally, humans form this ability in their elementary school days, and it allows us to imagine what others understand of the world or situation, not just what we see/think/feel. Engaging with a fictional world engages this ability, and can expose us to new ideas and ways of thought we might never have thought of previously.
- Social media, computers, and TV are reducing our ability to pay attention. Luckily, reading increases this ability because it focuses our attention on a singular goal.
- In this highly technological world, many of us forget how enjoyable reading can be. It gives us the chance to imagine, play out scenarios in our minds, and explore new territory. All of these aspects of reading are beneficial to boosting our play drive, staying in touch with ourselves, and enjoying our free time.