If you’re anything like me, you enjoy reading books – anything from sci-fi to biographies, but especially self-help – in particular, the success stories of people overcoming the odds to improve their lives.
Just check out my personal development book recommendations here and you’ll see what I mean.
If you’re new to reading, you probably think this question is complete overkill, but if you’ve been life optimising for a while, you might wonder if there’s an optimal time for reading books. And there are three main components to the question:
- What is the best time of life to read books?
- What is the best time of day to read books?
- Does it matter what type of books I’m reading?
In this article, I’ll share my thoughts.
Best time of life to read books
Books are one of life’s greatest pleasures. I was fortunate that my mother was an avid reader herself and encouraged me in my love of fiction and in particular, adventure stories. I remember the thrill of motoring through one title, just to then wait eagerly for the next instalment in the series.
Fortunately, the science seems unequivocal in its support of early reading for childhood development, demonstrating the many benefits of reading in our younger years. That said, even if you haven’t read much before, starting on your literary journey shouldn’t be delayed.
That’s because evidence also supports reading in later life, showing that it can keep the mind active, providing much-needed mental stimulation, and helping to reduce potential cognitive decline, in addition to other health benefits, such as:
- Stress reduction
- Increased focus
- Memory improvement
But it doesn’t stop there as, according to Clark and Rumbold (2006), reading for pleasure can assist:
- Reading attainment and writing ability;
- Text comprehension and grammar;
- Breadth of vocabulary;
- Positive reading attitudes;
- Greater self-confidence as a reader;
- Pleasure in reading in later life;
- General knowledge;
- A better understanding of other cultures;
- Community participation; and
- A greater insight into human nature and decision-making.
When should one start reading self-improvement books?
This is an incredibly popular genre in every age demographic. However, the tide is shifting concerning those consuming personal development material. According to this research,
“Traditionally, the Baby Boomers have been the main consumers of self-improvement services. While they remain an important group, the tide is shifting. Millennials are the future for this market…”
Technology, in part, seems to be fueling this shift,
“Millennials spend twice as much as Baby Boomers on self-improvement such as working out, life coaching and well-being apps”
Certainly growing up, I didn’t have ubiquitous access to technology, and perhaps like many people of my age, only encountered the genre at a later stage.
Indeed, it seems common or adults to only seek this type of material when they reach a life impasse, which could be a traumatic personal event, or simply a lack of direction in their personal or professional lives.
Although this research shows we develop more of an ‘improving mindset’ as we age, the access to tools and resources might well have a positive effect on younger populations.
And arguably, this trend for younger people to seek out self-improvement advice can only be a good thing.
Many adolescents might be keen to prove themselves, but as mental health and psychology tools become readily available, hopefully, there is a shift to greater self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
I would have loved such exposure to personal development plans at a younger age, and would say the best time to read self-help books is now, regardless of life stage.
Is it better to read in the morning or at night?
The second question is what time of day is best to read books.
This largely on the type of books you’re consuming and more importantly, your aims for reading.
If you’re seeking escape and relaxation, then reading at night before bed might be your best option, with a study by the University of Sussex showing that after raising participants’ stress levels, in order to reduce it,
“Reading worked best, reducing stress levels by 68 per cent’. It was better than listening to music (61%), drinking tea or coffee (54%) and taking a walk (42%)”.
Furthermore, this study showed that,
“Reading a book in bed before going to sleep improved sleep quality, compared to not reading a book in bed.”
Type of books
The type of books you’re reading will obviously factor into your decision. If you prefer fiction and simply want to unwind after a busy day, then reading at night may be preferential.
If, however, you’re reading non-fiction and titles in the personal development genre, where information retention is your main aim, and you want to get the most from the material, then you might want to consider the morning.
Research indicates that for the majority of individuals, our brains are most creative in the morning, so if information retention is your main aim, reading after waking may be best,
“UK employees feel they’re most creative at 11:05am, according to our latest research. The survey of 1,000 UK office workers looked into the time of day employees feel most creative, and which working environments best help to stimulate our creativity.”
For example, if you’re reading non-fiction and taking notes, it might be sensible to try this in the morning when your creativity is strongest, so as to benefit from increased cognitive flexibility.
However, in my personal morning routine, reading doesn’t usually factor. Why? because I like to reserve this time for higher load cognitive tasks – specifically writing.
Reading, even if I’m taking notes, is a more passive activity and I like to allocate my periods of greatest mental agility to tasks necessitating the most mental input.
So, should you read books before bed?
I’m not necessarily advocating for everyone to follow my personal routine.
However, I find reading a pleasurable activity, even if I’m reading a book to later summarise on this site. That’s why I like to unwind in the evening after my high-value work activities are completed.
It all comes down to the type of book you’re reading and your aims. You can evaluate all the evidence, but it boils down to personal testing.
I suggest running two 30-day challenge experiments and allocating specific reading slots in your diary, morning for the first month and evening for the second.
Combine this with the reflective practice of journaling, evaluating your sleep quality, information retention and general mood levels. With enough tweaking, you can discover the optimal activity time to meet your reading aims.
Summary – the best time to read books
- The Morning: When You’re Most Productive
- The Evening: When You Can Relax and Unwind
- The Night: When You Can’t Sleep Anyway
- Anytime: When You Need a Pick-Me-Up!
Really though, reading is such a nourishing activity, that you should try to pick up a book whenever you can. If I wasn’t working, I’d probably spend most of my day reading! Indeed, Warren Buffet is said to read for five to six hours a day!
So simply consider the research, experiment with your daily routine and choose whatever works for you.