According to Raman Malhotra, MD, associate professor of neurology at the Washington University Sleep Center in St. Louis, Missouri, it's partly to do with how relaxing reading really is, and also to do with establishing it as a pre-bedtime routine. Since reading is such a great de-stressor, incorporating it into a bedtime routine might make it more helpful for you to fall asleep in the long run.
"For many [people], reading can be relaxing and enjoyable, which can put your mind and body in the appropriate mindset or mood to go to sleep," he says. "The main reason reading may help some fall asleep is that it allows your mind some time to rest and relax before turning out the lights to fall asleep."
Of course, that's if you're reading something relaxing and not something that makes you more anxious. Dr. Malhotra says reading anything distressing or even too exciting probably isn't great for winding down, so maybe save Gone Girl for a daytime read.
Other than that, though, if you regularly read before bed, that might make it even more helpful for sleep.
"Establishing a regular bedtime routine or 'wind-down time' can help improve sleep in people who have insomnia or poor-quality sleep," Dr. Malhotra says. "Adding a bedtime routine of 15 to 30 minutes can separate your 'sleep time' from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep."
Another part of it might be that reading tires your eyes out enough for you to fall asleep. Dr. Malhotra says that focusing on the words and taking in what you're reading can tire you out, especially if you're already comfy in bed.
Reading can be relaxing and enjoyable, which can put your mind and body in the appropriate mindset or mood to go to sleep.
Raman Malhotra, MD
Your eyes will probably tire out whether you're reading a physical book or an e-book, but Dr. Malhotra says that there are some advantages to a good old-fashioned page-turner.
"One potential disadvantage of a digital reader is [that] the amount and type of light coming from screens can be disruptive to sleep," he says. "Most of the digital readers emit blue wavelength light which disrupts our body’s internal clock, sometimes making it more difficult to fall asleep."
That blue light is why doctors generally advise you to resist using your phone too close to your bedtime. Plus, Dr. Malhotra says, if you're reading on a phone or iPad, the chances are higher that you'll get tempted to check another app, like Instagram or Twitter, and be sucked into a hole for the rest of the night.
On the other hand, if you're actually trying to finish a book and are having a hard time staying awake through it, Dr. Malhotra suggests trying a brighter light, sitting upright, or making sure the room isn't too warm, but if you do get really tired, it's probably a sign that you need some rest.
Reading may not be an instant sleep aid for everyone, but if you're having a hard time hitting the hay lately, it's worth a shot. And if not, we have other tips and tricks for you.