Why Reading Makes You Sleepy and What You Can Do About It

Even when a book is amazing, I sometimes can’t help but succumb to sweet sleep!

I have a conflicted relationship with sleep. Sometimes it feels absolutely delicious to burrow my cheek in a pillow and go under for some zzz’s, but when I have an amazing book to read and my eyelids feel like those kettlebells in my basement that I should but don’t use, sleep becomes a relentless adversary.

I’ve always envied friends who aren’t plagued with reading-induced sleepies. I remember giving a friend Gone with the Wind in high school during band practice and the next morning, bleary-eyed and yawning, she handed the small brick of a book back to me. She’d stayed up all night and finished it because she couldn’t put it down.

I was glad she enjoyed the book, but it didn’t seem fair that she could get all that reading done simply because she didn’t fall asleep. Except for a brief period of time in college when I had a bout of insomnia (even the whale blubber chapter of Moby Dick didn’t help me zonk out), my reading time often becomes naptime. 

I still get through a good number of books, but with my ever-growing TBR list, I want more reading and less shut-eye. To make this happen, I did what any millennial would. I Googled “Why does reading make me sleepy?” and “How to stay awake while reading.”

According to the interwebs, there could be many reasons for my drowsiness:

  • Not enough sleep at night
  • Eye fatigue, often from insufficient lighting
  • Mental fatigue from the exertion necessary to process text
  • Boring reading material
  • Warm environment
  • Reclined reading position

Of all of these, the last interested me the most. Apparently, tilting your head down while reading results in a slowing of breath and overall physical relaxation. I reflected on my findings and had to admit that, aside from boring reading material, all the possible reasons for reading-induced sleepiness applied to me.

Armed with this knowledge, I moved on to address the second part of my research. The Internet offered numerous suggestions for staying awake while reading, so I decided to give them a try. My plan was to take as many sleep-prevention measures as possible and fill in with reactive tactics if needed.

I set my goal for 45-minutes of uninterrupted reading and went into the session armed with 8.5 hours of sleep the night before, the book NEED by Joelle Charbonneau (a YA thriller and definitely not boring), ample natural and artificial light, an ambient temperature of 68 degrees Farehnheit, and black coffee. I made sure to sit with my back straight in an armchair with my chin lifted and feet on the floor.

When time was up… I hadn’t fallen asleep! There hadn’t been the slightest droop of an eyelid and I hadn’t needed any back-up anti-sleep strategies — things like jumping jacks, chewing gum, taking notes, reading aloud, or taking a cold shower (I was really glad I didn’t have to go through with that one!). Was my wakefulness a direct result of my pre-reading prep? I can’t be sure.

Knowing that it was all an experiment may have skewed the results, but no matter the reason for my alertness, the bottom line was it hadn’t been an enjoyable way to read. The experience felt like work instead of my favorite pastime.

I associate books and reading with comfort. For me, it’s all about curling up on the sofa with a fuzzy blanket and saying adios to reality. I don’t know if I’m willing to give that up for the sake of getting through more pages. In times when it’s necessary to read for a deadline, the stay-awake tips will come in handy, but for everyday recreational reading, I’m okay with succumbing to the sandman. Who knows, maybe I’ll get through my entire TBR list in one of my dreams!

2 responses to “Why Reading Makes You Sleepy and What You Can Do About It”

  1. Jenny Avatar

    How about inventing something that electroshock you every few minutes if you have fallen asleep? 🙂

    1. Kristen Avatar

      I think you have a major money-maker on your hands. Kickstarter it!

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