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Easy winsSleep

Easy wins: better than a warm cup of milk, read for six minutes before bed for good sleep

Committing to six minutes of reading a night before bed sounds easy – and it is. Not only can it improve sleep and reduce stress, but you’ll be better read too

Reading before bed is better than a cup of warm milk
Reading before bed is better than a cup of warm milk Illustration: Guardian Design

Maddie ThomasWed 19 Jan 2022 16.30 GMT

We’re all on a never-ending pursuit to perfect the art of good shuteye. Theories abound, so it is easy to find yourself in a maze of advice, mindfulness techniques and mum’s advice about the magic of a cup of warm milk at night.

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But one tactic I found ticked all my boxes: reading for just six minutes before you go to sleep. Relaxing your brain in a way that Netflix before bed just can’t, this simple trick has both improved my sleep and put an end to my reading slump.

Back in 2009 the University of Sussex conducted research that found reading a book reduced stress levels by 68%, outperforming other activities like going for a walk or having a cup of tea. Researcher and cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis explained that this is because sustained reading is more than a distraction and instead offers the chance to be engrossed in the author’s imagination and enter an altered state of consciousness that relaxes the brain.

Six minutes sounds easy- and it is – so I’ve employed it as my pre-sleep routine. Not only has the theory proved itself for me, but nine times out of 10, I read for much longer, steadily making a dent in the toppling pile of books on my bedside table. In the time I’ve taken up this habit, waking up on the wrong side of the bed has been easily attributed to nights when I have not turned just a few pages.

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With so many of us glued to a screen before bed out of habit, bingeing a TV show or scrolling through social media, the best thing about this strategy is that anyone can do six minutes. Fighting off the feeling of being too tired, the reward is rediscovering the escapism and inspiration reading gives us. When we hit a reading roadblock, maybe we don’t always need a page-turner to get back into books. Maybe all we need is a routine.

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