How to Read at Night
Reading at night is a pleasant and calming activity that many people enjoy. A few unique challenges can present themselves, though, and include the risk of inadequate comfort and light, potentially keeping yourself awake, and disturbing your sleeping partner. Be sure to select your reading material wisely, and prop yourself up with pillows to ensure comfort and back support. If you’re reading on a digital device, you should turn off the device an hour or so before bed, or turn off the device’s blue light.
Reading Comfortably at Night
1. Sit or recline in a quiet, calm environment. Reading before bed is calming, and helps prepare your mind and body for a night of restful sleep. To get the most out of reading for bed, find a quiet space to read in. If you have guests or friends at your home, ask them to keep noise to a minimum.
The brain is not made to multi-task, and if you try to watch TV and read at the same time, you’ll find it is ineffective and frustrating. Turn off the noisy TV, and focus on reading.
Light a candle to help you relax or set the mood while you’re reading.
2. Prop pillows behind yourself to support your neck and back. Reading in bed can be bad for your posture if you allow yourself to slouch. So, it’s important to sit or lie in a way that won’t cause you any neck or back pain. Ensure that you have appropriate supports by using pillows or neck rests to keep your back and neck as vertical as possible.
If you’re lying down or sitting on a couch, add something helpful such as a horseshoe pillow or a large slanted pillow. Small neck pillows may be helpful too.
Changing positions every 30–45 minutes can also help you to avoid bad posture and can prevent you from feeling discomfort in your neck or back.
Bring the book closer to your face to help you straighten out your back slightly.
3. Read light fiction at night to prepare yourself for sleep. If you tend to feel sleepy when reading at night, avoid reading technical non-fiction, dense poetry, or heavy fiction that asks too much of you intellectually. These genres will be hard to follow if you’re drowsy. So, read a light novel or short story at night. This will relax your mind, and prepare it for sleep and dreaming.
If you’re studying or finalizing work, consider doing the tough reading earlier in the night. That way, you can leave lighter reading for bedtime.
4. Clip on a book light if you don’t want bright lights on in your room. Many different versions of the clip-on book light exist, but they all work basically the same way. Clip the clamp onto the back cover of your book, angle the bulb towards the page you’re currently reading, and switch on the light. Some book lights are designed to clip on to the edge of your reading glasses instead. Either type of book light will keep the light source directly over the book, and won’t wake up anyone else sleeping in the same room.
You can purchase clip-on book lights at department stores, bookstores, or through online retailers.
Most book lights require 1 or 2 AA batteries.
5. Situate yourself under the covers with a flashlight to read undetected. If you’re trying to read quietly and unobtrusively (e.g., without waking up your parents), crawl down beneath the covers and pull the top of the blankets back over your head. Then, switch on a flashlight and point it at your book. The blankets will prevent light from leaking out, so you can read comfortably for as long as you want.
This approach may be impractical for an adult trying to avoid waking their partner in the same bed. Your partner may find the rustling under the covers even more distracting than sleeping with the lights on.
6. Avoid reading in the dark so you don’t strain your eyes. When reading at night, you may find yourself sitting in a dark room, straining and squinting to read the words on the page or screen. This can exhaust and potentially damage your eyes. To avoid straining your eyes reading at night, sit or lie near a source of good lighting. You could read by the light of a lamp or an overhead light.
If you need reading glasses, wear them. They will reduce the strain that causes your eyes to feel tired.
7. Listen to an audiobook instead of reading. Instead of flipping through the pages of a hard-copy book, try loading up an e-book on your tablet or smartphone. That way, you can put earphones in, hide any light source and listen to a book in the dark, without waking up any sleepers. Just try to avoid drifting off while the book is still playing, or you may lose your place.
You can download audiobooks through the Kindle, Amazon, Google, or Apple online stores. Many public libraries also have audio books, either on CD or digitally.
Staying Awake While Reading
1. Sit up to read in bed to avoid falling asleep. Your mind probably associates reclining in your bed with sleeping, which may cause you to fall asleep while you’re reading. If you find yourself in this situation, do not read lying down at nighttime. Prop yourself up and sit comfortably in your bed while reading, instead. Or, read sitting or reclining on your sofa.
Experiment with different sitting positions, to see if any help you to stay awake while reading.
2. Eat a light snack while you’re reading. A light snack will give you something to munch on while you’re reading and can help you stay awake by giving your body a few late-night calories. Look for a relatively healthy option so you’re not just filling up on empty calories, carbohydrates, and processed foods.
Try snacking on pretzels, celery sticks, blueberries, or popcorn.
3. Drink a cold, decaffeinated beverage to keep yourself awake. Having a glass of ice water or lemonade will help you stay awake while you’re reading at night. Slowly sip the drink while you’re reading. Avoid caffeinated beverages like coffee, iced tea, or black tea. These drinks will keep you awake even after you’re ready to fall asleep.
Also keep in mind that you may wake up in the middle of the night needing to use the bathroom if you drink too much liquid before bed.
4. Get 7–9 hours of sleep every night so you’re less tired when you read. Reading at night while you’re sleep-deprived will make your tiredness worse. You may even fall asleep while you’re reading. If you’re over 18, you should get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. If you find that you’re getting less sleep than this, try cutting back on your reading time and devoting more of your time to sleep.
If you’re between 6 and 13 years old, you should get 9–11 hours of sleep every night.
If you’re between 14 and 17, aim for 8–10 hours of sleep.
Reading on a Digital Device
1. Choose a digital device for reading. Depending on personal preference and what’s available, this might mean an e-reader, a laptop, a smartphone, or a tablet. Select a device that you can read with ease (avoid squinting or straining to read). If you’d like to hold the device as you read in bed, choose a device that’s relatively light and that you can hold with ease.
Some digital devices suitable for reading come with a stand or you are able to purchase one separately, to allow for hands-free reading.
2. Keep digital reading for the evening and early nighttime only. Avoid reading on a digital device before your bedtime, or if you’re reading late at night. The bright blue light from a digital screen can delay or suppress the release of melatonin, the hormone that regulates your circadian clock and helps you to feel sleepy.
It is a good idea to turn down the level of brightness of the reading screen and to stop reading on the device about 2 hours before your intended bedtime.
3. Shut off your device’s blue light when reading late. Many devices have a built-in setting that allows you to turn off the disruptive blue light. Look through your device’s settings, and turn the blue-light blocker on if you’re reading after it’s dark outside. With this setting turned on, you can read late without disrupting your sleep pattern.
If your smartphone or tablet doesn’t have a function to turn off the blue light, search the app store for an app that performs this function. Just search for “blue light” and look through the results.