I remember the first time I went a sleepover and saw my friend read in bed before we went to sleep. We were eight or nine and I hadn’t read before bed since my mom stopped reading aloud to me and my brother when we entered elementary school.
The overhead light turned out and my friend’s mom said goodnight and closed the door. My friend pulled out her book and turned on a flashlight.
I remember having my own internal lightbulb turn on.
“Brilliant! Why hadn’t I thought of that?”
The very next day, I tucked a book under my bed, thinking I was being sneaky.
Of course, my mom felt the book when she came to hug me good night and asked, “What’s this doing here?”
When I explained that I wanted to read a bit before bed, she agreed and turned the light on for me. She did stipulate that I only read for a few minutes.
What I don’t remember is if this was before or after I started wearing a plastic back brace to straighten out my growing spine. This back brace was terrible, an inch think, made of hard plastic, and had to be tightened with the Velcro straps by someone else.
If I needed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, I had to call my mom or dad to come take it off. I had to wear it over a t-shirt or nightgown but it still itched and any wrinkle could become a nightmare after fifteen minutes.
I couldn’t lay on my side or turn easily. It was almost impossible to fall asleep. My mom would lay with me for a while in case it needed to be repositioned.
In order to fall asleep, I would read. I read childhood classics like Anne of Green Gables and Nancy Drew.
At one doctor’s appointment, my doctor suggested Agatha Christie novels, which I then devoured. (It also led to an awkward moment in sixth grade when I asked my English teacher what a nymphomaniac was).
Luckily, my parents got me my own dictionary when they didn’t know the definition to all the archaic words I came across in Anne of Green Gables.
Reading helped me sleep. For years.
I ran out of things to read all the time, and when I didn’t have the allowance or a trip to the book store or library, I reread. I read in school during recess or breaks (or admittedly during boring lectures).
I still read at night. I can’t tell you the last time I didn’t read before I went to sleep. In fact most of the rare nights I didn’t was because I was already sleepy from alcohol (which normally makes me tipsy and then quickly sleepy).
On early mornings when I can’t get back to sleep, I read in the hopes I’ll get sleepy or just to stop my mind racing. I use reading to try to interrupt all the obsessive thoughts. I have to pick my books right, for example, a thriller or suspense novel will tend to stress me out more if I’m already feeling anxious.
However, usually my empathetic side will help me out if I pick a more relaxing book, or one of I’m read before. I identify with the characters and am no longer focusing on my own worries or thoughts.
Recently though, a friend training in neuropsychology, who I share a lot of my mental health and physical health stuff with, suggested that maybe, now, reading is also a crutch.
This terrifies me. I don’t know what to do. How to lay there not reading. What if I just worry more or can’t stop the thinking? How do I fall asleep without that break with my day? Without that escape?
People always talk about reading as though it’s almost sacred, but I read all the time, for my graduate study and for relaxation. I read before bed and during my commute. I read all day for class, for teaching, for my exams.
Sometimes I worry I read too much. My eyes are already strained and my migraines can’t handle computer screens. It’s not a stretch to think that maybe I read too much at night.
Should I cut back or go cold turkey? I ask this although I know I’m not ready to go cold turkey. I am considering reading less and also making it a rule that once I put the book up I do not pick it up again. I have a habit of trying to sleep of 20-30 minutes and giving up and reading more in the hopes that will help. However, there’s a chance that that is just prolonging the cycle.