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When it comes to reading for fun during the school year, I’ve used every excuse in the book — pun intended. I do too much reading as an English literature major. I don’t have the energy to go to the library. I have so little time, I want to fill it with other activities I enjoy. The list goes on. I’m sure almost everyone could come up with a few of their own excuses.
It’s a shame that we don’t read for pleasure as much during the school year, because with reading comes so many other benefits that improve the quality of everyday life. This is especially true for current college students dealing with the stress of academics, loans and being an adult.
The truth is, everyone has time to read — and pursue other things for that matter — as long as they manage their time. And really, we should be choosing to read in our spare minutes, because the mental benefits far outweigh those of scrolling through social media or listening to a true crime podcast.
The average American spends 5.4 hours a day on their cell phone, according to a 2019 study conducted by Provision Living. Millennials and Gen Zs look at their phones slightly more than older generations, averaging about 5.7 hours a day. The drawbacks of screentime greatly outweigh the benefits, including when it comes to sleep.
Like all screens, phones emit blue light. Exposure to said blue light suppresses the secretion of melatonin more powerfully than any other kind of light, according to Harvard Health. This means that evening phone exposure can be harmful for sleep, especially exposure right before bed. I’m most prone to falling into the internet black hole right before bed, and I’d venture to guess that many other college-aged students experience similar tendencies.
Unlike scrolling through Facebook and browsing your thousands of spam emails, books don’t emit any blue light or any light at all for that matter. This makes the period between productive work and bed an ideal time to read. Reading is also shown to decrease stress levels, which makes for a better night’s sleep. A 2009 University of Surrey study found that reading before bed can reduce stress levels by as much as 68%.
In addition to reduced stress levels, reading also helps to calm the brain. It’s almost like a form of meditation and can be extremely effective in not only sleep maintenance, but also in reducing anxiety. Anxiety is slightly different than stress, though college students tend to be prone to experiencing both. Reading can help offset this, and it’s always a good idea to go to bed without a head full of worries.
Even if you aren’t reading right before bed, there are still countless mental benefits that come along with it. Most of us could use a stress break in the middle of the day, and while activities like intense exercise might be beneficial, they aren’t always practical at midday for people who have long commutes or are going from class to class. Consider reading while you eat lunch or while waiting for someone to arrive for a meeting or simply pick a daily time for a 20-minute reading break.
For students who utilize public transportation, the bus is an ideal place to read. A book makes the morning commute feel shorter, and just as screen time adds up, so does reading time. Becoming enthralled in a book stimulates the neural networks in the brain, improving our vocabulary, social cognition and general understanding of abstract content, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Studies also show that reading increases emotional intelligence and empathy as well. You make better decisions for your own well-being and see the people in the world around you more clearly. This is due to documented overlap between the areas of the brain that comprehend stories and the brain networks that process interactions with others, according to a 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology.
To be clear, reading for pleasure doesn’t mean pulling “Moby-Dick” off of your bookshelf or checking “Ulysses” out from the Carnegie Library — unless those books really do bring you pleasure, then have at it. Reading for pleasure just means reading, whether that be a magazine, a true crime novel, young adult literature or Michelle Obama’s memoir. Your book choice does not need to be a sophisticated classic in order to reap all of reading’s benefits.
Ultimately, we all have time to read. Whether or not we actually do depends on the way in which we prioritize our schedule and whether or not we’re self-aware enough to put the cell phone down for the morning commute or pick up a paperback before going to sleep