With the ever-beckoning lure of screen time fighting for your attention – be it an evening of Netflix or hours spent scrolling through your smartphone or tablet – we have to ask: When was the last time you read a book? While Kindles and bookworms certainly still have a place in modern society, the question of whether people actually read books anymore is one that has been asked time and time again in recent years.
Statistically speaking, it seems that people do indeed still enjoy a good book. One 2016 report showed that at least 72 to 73 percent of adults had read a book within the last 12 months, while teenagers were close behind with 72 percent having read at least one (1). Yet, that very same year, another study showed that the number of adults who had read a minimum of one work of literature per year reached a three-decade low (2). While the culture of reading is by no means dying out – and its decline is one that is often exaggerated – there’s no denying the fact that people simply don’t seem to consume books as voraciously as they did in the past.
This shift is also indicative of how we consume information in general, which includes not just entertainment but also intelligence-boosting fodder. The popularity of documentaries appears to be on the rise, for instance. However, whether you prefer it in a digital or paper-based format, the benefits of reading remain undeniable, and we’ve observed a serious uptake in the trend of people setting themselves reading challenges in the past year. Whether you aim to read a chapter a day, a book a month, or just begin reading more, here’s why doing so is a great idea for your overall health.
It makes you smarter.
This seems like a given, but it’s true. Aside from opening us up to new realms of knowledge, reading naturally exposes us to a wider vocabulary, which has been proven to lead to higher scores of intelligence. And just like most practices in life, the more we do it, the better we get at it.
Think of it like exercising your brain. According to neurologists, reading can help boost brain power by slowing down the decline of memory and brain function that can come with aging. The mental stimulation has also been linked to an improvement in our analytical skills. As we’re taken through a great story, we tend to naturally want to solve the mysteries within the pages, figure out what makes the characters tick, or analyze how we felt about the development of the book. This increase in knowledge can also lead to an increase in self-confidence. (3)
It makes you kinder.
There’s nothing quite like a good book to help open your mind to different perspectives. Reading develops patience and understanding with regards to the way certain people act and why they do so – even when it’s characters you don’t necessarily like and wouldn’t have associated with in real life. By learning how to better relate to others through seeing their point of view, you’re developing your ability to flex your emotional muscles, as well as becoming more empathetic. (4)
It helps to beat stress.
Picture a cozy window nook that you want to snuggle up in with a blanket and a cup of tea. There’s just one thing missing to complete this scene: a good book. Reading is a proven stress-buster, regardless of what we’re reading. Delving into a genuinely captivating tale allows us to momentarily escape the pressures and concerns of everyday life in a harmless way. There’s a reason why they call it “losing yourself in a good book”. (5)
It boosts your creativity.
Exposure to other people’s imagination can help stimulate our own. Isn’t this the literary equivalent of pictorial-based Instagram #inspo? Whether you’re into fantasy and science fiction or detective novels, exposure to new ideas can spark some of your own.
Studies have shown that reading fiction can help to decrease our need for cognitive closure – our brain’s need to have a firm answer to a question with zero ambiguity – and, as a result, allow us to become more open and creative in developing our own answers to life’s questions. This increased ability to think beyond the boundaries of what you thought you knew can widen your horizons and seep into other aspects of your life, making you more creative overall. (6)
It can help you sleep better.
Reading at the same time every night, such as just before you go to bed, can actually help you sleep more soundly at night. This is because the routine-based aspect of this act means that it can be established as part of a bedtime ritual, such as smelling lavender essential oil, doing a couple of deep stretches, or sipping a cup of tea, and in doing so can help signal to your brain each night that it’s bedtime.
If this is the benefit you’re most interested in, opt for a printed book instead of a digital version to avoid the dreaded blue-light exposure, which has been shown to disrupt our sleep patterns by affecting melatonin levels and natural circadian rhythms.