Ugh…what happened??!! I fell asleep again. It happens to so many of us. We get comfortable at the end of the day and settle in for several minutes with our favorite author or publication. After 15-20 minutes, our eyes begin to get heavy and it’s hard to remember what we read on the previous page. Before we know it, we’re waking up a few hours later in the middle of the night with the book on our chest and the lights on. So much for a great story or a thought-provoking article tonight. We’ll try again tomorrow. Why does this happen? We feel awake and aware before we start to read, but a few paragraphs in…the drowsiness set in. Experts that study sleep believe there a few factors that cause humans to get tired when they read at the end of the day. While reading is considered a leisure activity it makes the brain the work (albeit ‘fun’ work). Our eyes follow letters on a page, our brains translate those letters into sentences that convey ideas and our imagination takes over to build a story around the words. There’s more going on than it might appear…so it makes sense that some of us get tired.
In addition to the work our body is doing, our position, the environment and events of the day are contributing to the idea of sleep. When reading before we want to go to sleep many of us are in lying in bed. A strong signal to the body that it’s time to go to sleep. Additionally, the lack of sunlight and low interior lights are indicators that the body should prepare for sleep. Finally, with many work days getting longer dinner gets pushed closer to bed time. Having a full stomach requires energy for digestion…reducing the amount of energy available for other activities. This is especially true at the end of the day when our energy supplies are already depleted.
If you really want to spend an hour or two with that book try sitting upright in bed or avoid the bed altogether. You can also plan to eat dinner at least 4 hours before you want to fall asleep. If these tactics are not enough, reading aloud is a tactic for staying awake as is keeping the room cooler than normal.