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Reading is good for you.

By Kobo • December 15, 2023Big Ideas in Books

Science shows that time spent reading is time well spent

While many of us pursue wellness through exercise and nutrition, filling our fridges with meal-prep containers and our calendars with yoga classes, too often we overlook the good that can come from reading a book. While some will seek a formal course of bibliotherapy—the practice of improving mental health by reading and talking about books—the benefits of reading books can reach far beyond mood and mindset.

Studies have found a number of benefits associated with reading, which can be summarized in 4 points:

  1. Reading reduces stress
  2. Reading at bedtime improves the quality of your sleep
  3. Reading is good for your brain
  4. People who read books live longer

1. Reading reduces stress

The health effects of stress have been linked to mental illness including anxiety and depression as well as a variety of physical ailments, many with no discernable physical cause. And when stress causes unhealthy behaviours like smoking, eating too much or not enough, and not getting a good night’s sleep, it’s a recipe for a stew of unwellness.

Reading has been shown to reduce stress

Fortunately, you can reduce your own stress levels by adding a few minutes of reading to your day. A 2009 study found that reading for half an hour significantly reduced a variety of stress responses in adults. Reading was as effective at stress-reduction as doing yoga or watching a “Best of Saturday Night Live” video. What's even more surprising: for the purpose of scientific validity, test subjects in this study were given a set of pre-selected articles from popular news magazines to read—we can only guess how much more stress can be washed away by picking up a book from your personal to-be-read list.

2. Reading improves the quality of your sleep

It seems like these days nobody’s getting enough sleep, and nobody’s sleep is as good as it could be. Most of us already know that on days when you’ve come up short on shut-eye, it’s hard to think, and at the same time emotions can be running wild. Sleep science experts also warn that sleep regulates stress hormones, appetite, blood pressure, heart health, and just about every system and tissue in the body.

Reading at the end of the day is a great way to ensure you get a good night’s rest

But it turns out that however much you sleep you do get, reading can make it better. In a study of nearly 1000 people, around half started reading a book in bed before falling asleep, and the other half did whatever they normally did at bedtime. The group that added reading to their nighttime routine was 50% more likely to report an improvement in their quality of sleep during the experiment.

You already know you shouldn’t be going to bed with your phone. But if you’ve got an app for reading books on it and notifications turned off, there’s a case to be made for making an exception. Though to be safe we recommend an actual book or a distraction-free device like an eReader—just look for features like ComfortLight PRO to reduce potentially sleep-disrupting blue light.

3. Reading improves how well your brain functions

Everyone knows books are great sources of knowledge, and for any subject you want to learn there’s a book for it. But did you know that even reading fiction can improve cognitive functioning?

A 2013 study found that reading a novel (Robert Harris’ historical thriller Pompeii) while being periodically scanned in an fMRI over a period of 9 days showed an (unsurprising) increase in function in a part of the brain responsible for understanding story and perspective. But what researchers didn’t expect was that in the days after test participants finished the book, scans showed improved connectivity throughout parts of the brain associated with physical sensation and movement.

Reading can improve cognitive function

And a different study suggested that readers of literary fiction—books in which characters’ internal worlds are filled with subtle details—tend to display more empathy and a more sophisticated comprehension of how others feel and perceive the world. These findings have been challenged, specifically on whether people who are already empathetic are drawn to literary fiction. However, if it turns out that reading books doesn’t actually increase empathy, there are still substantial gains to be made by spending part of every day reading.

4. Readers live longer than non-readers

For some people, engaging in a wellness routine is about living their best life now. For many, it’s also about longevity. Is it really your “best” life if you don’t make it last as long as possible?

Studies have shown that reading books is associated with longevity

You know who’s living long? Readers. And not just any readers. Book readers. It’s true: compared to non-readers, readers of books were 20% less likely to die over the course of a 12-year study. That said, we all turn our final page someday so if there’s anything you really want to read in your lifetime—there’s no better time to start than now. ◼︎

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