Which Habit Is More Important: Reading or Sleep?

I’m pretty good at habits. Sometimes, I’m too good. My habits gather strength. Sometimes, one of my habits gets in the way of another habit. I wrote in my “What’s Making Me Happy in July” post that one thing NOT making me happy is my lack of sleep. It’s becoming a huge problem. I spend my mornings feeling irritable, draggy, and stressed about all the things I don’t have the energy to do. I usually manage to take a nap after lunch, and the rest of the day goes better, until I try to go to bed early that night to avoid a Groundhog Day situation. And I fail. Partly because I took the nap, and my body isn’t ready for sleep. But mostly because I’ve cultivated this awesome other habit that’s getting in the way of my sleep habits.

I’m looking at you, Books.

Reading has been SO good this summer. Thanks to my goal of 100 books this year, my membership in the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club, and a TBR list that’s ever-replenishing, I’ve been reading my pants off. And that’s a great thing. Reading does so many wonderful things for me:

  • Reading opens me up to new experiences.
  • Reading allows escape from my worries.
  • Reading provides creative food for my writing.
  • Reading provokes thoughts and feelings.

Unfortunately, reading also stops time. I lose track of time completely when I read, and that’s a big problem when I’m trying to go to sleep at a reasonable hour. I don’t think I can shake the habit of reading before bed; I’ve been doing it since I was a small child. (Maybe even before that, if you count my parents reading to me.) But I have to do something to counteract the strength of my reading habit and get my sleep habits back on track.

Reading makes me happy in so many ways, but sleep is everything. Sleep is my keystone habit. If I’ve slept enough, I can conquer the world. My creative brain crackles. My body begs for exercise. I’m like a puppy when I’ve slept well: energetic, curious. Without it, I’m a lazy old dog, capable only of automatic behaviors, and not necessarily healthy ones. A lazy old dog doesn’t learn new tricks.

So here are the changes I’ve come up with:

  • Keep a book by the bedside that’s not a page-turner. This is hard, because when I’m in the middle of a great book, I want to read it all the time. But keeping a bed-specific book will make it easier to put down. It could be nonfiction, or it could be a more dense novel, or a re-read. But it can’t be addictive. It can’t prompt me to crave “one more chapter, one more page.”
  • Be realistic about how long it takes me to read more pages. The other night, I wanted to finish a book. I had about 50 pages left. I timed myself reading the first 10, then calculated the amount of time it would take me to finish so I could decide whether the later bedtime was worth it. I decided it was, but I’m glad I went into it with full awareness.
  • Keep my phone alarm on the other side of the room. I’ve never had to do this before, because I’m pretty good at getting up with the alarm. BUT, if my phone is unreachable, I won’t decide to change the alarm time so that I can read more. I’ll know that it’s set in stone, and that means my bedtime better be set in stone, too.

I hope these changes work, because while my reading life is blooming, my overall energy is sliding. And I’m going to need every ounce of that energy when I return to teaching school in a few weeks. I can’t totally control my sleep, because the baby still wakes up sometimes in the middle of the night and cries for me. But I can do my best not to allow my reading life to take over my good sleep habits.

Have you ever cultivated a habit that took over another habit? How did you decide on your priorities? How did you counteract the bad habit?

4 Responses to “Which Habit Is More Important: Reading or Sleep?”

  1. Justin Sheldon says:

    I also had to remove my primary reading book from my bedside and replace it with a specific, bedside only book. However, my problem was that I would not devote other time during the day to reading my book because I would tell myself I would read it before I went to bed. What would end up happening is either, like you, I would stay up much later than I wanted to, or I would not make nearly enough progress in my book because I was too tired to read and it ended up taking me forever to finish my book. What has worked well for me is having a bedside book that has lots of stopping points so I could read in small chunks at a time. If I was up for it, I could read multiple small chunks. For instance, I read of series of books entitled “Intellectual Devotional” where each page presents information on a different topic. The goal is to read one page a day for an entire year. However, you could read as many pages as you like in one sitting. When I was deployed for six months, I read two pages a day to finish it before i went home. Currently, I have “The Federalist Papers” as my bedside book. It has 85 essays of relatively short length so I can decide how many I want to read each night.

  2. Leanne Sowul says:

    Justin, that’s a great idea– read a book that has natural stopping points. I’ve been meaning to work my way through a stack of literary journals that mostly contain essays and short stories. That might be the perfect thing to keep by my bedside.
    “The Federalist Papers” is something I’ve also always wanted to read!

  3. That’s a tough dilemma–reading and sleep are both necessities! It sounds like you have a good handle on making adjustments, though. Just the right bedtime read can be a tricky thing–though usually I’m so tired at night that I fall asleep over the book anyway. If I’m close to the end of a book, sometimes I’ll finish it off first thing the next morning.

    I’ve been meaning to let you know that I’m reading America’s Women right now, and you’re right, it is so good! Very interesting and easy to read.

  4. Leanne Sowul says:

    Kathy, I’m so glad you’re enjoying America’s Women! I think it should be required reading for all modern women. It’s so important to have an appreciation for our past.

    I’ve never understood how anyone can fall asleep reading a book. I have never, ever been able to do that. I have to deliberately put the book down and turn off the light, and that’s so hard sometimes!

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