I can still hear my dad’s warm, gentle voice as he knelt by my bed and told me a “Louie story.” Louie was a paragon of goodness who went about with his friends doing kindly deeds in the neighborhood. A typical action was rescuing an elderly woman’s cat from a tree – ice cream was the usual reward. Whether it was the Louie story or having few worries at that age, I always slept very soundly. In addition, my soul recalled Louie’s goodness – he made virtue seem attractive.
As I grew older, I discovered that reading a book had a similar effect as a Louie story. Reading relaxes the mind and helps the body feel restful. But, and this is a major but…the choice of reading before bed is vital. Your mind is like a mill that continues to grind through the night. If you place good wheat in the mill, the result is fine flour; if your brain mashes on poison pellets, soul-sickness is assured.
How is this so? Because while your body slumbers, your mind remains very active during sleep. What we place in our conscious beforehand will work its way into our subconscious and have an effect on our general outlook, either positive or negative. Did you ever see a scary documentary or movie before bed and find your sleep disturbed with unpleasant scenes? It’s known as soul indigestion because our minds churn on what is consumed before bed, whether we like it or not. Hence, it is recommended to feed on wholesome, encouraging, or beautiful thoughts during sleep so that the garden of the soul may produce flowers and fruits – not weeds of woe.
Furthermore, our subconscious is only one factor during sleep. Research indicates that memory retention, in particular, the process known as consolidation, is very active while our bodies slumber. During the day, the area of the brain known as the hippocampus is most active in processing memories. During sleep, the cortex of the brain becomes most active, which supports the notion that memorization is most effective before bed. However, an involved study is not necessarily recommended unless you are a student. The purpose of reading before bed is generally a matter of encouraging the mind to relax.
And reading appears as an excellent choice in this effort. According to a study conducted by cognitive neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis, the best stress-reducing activity before bed is reading. Reading reduces stress by 68%, as compared to listening to music (61%), drinking tea or coffee (54%), or taking a walk (42%). Reading is moreover a quick-fix that required only six minutes for the participant’s stress levels to lessen.
How does it work? Reading effectively shifts the attention of the mind away from tension generators such as worry or negative thoughts. The body likewise relaxes as the mind grows calmer. Hence sleep quality naturally improves as the mind and body unwind. A sound night of sleep makes for a good day whereas unrestful sleep is a harbinger of a stressful day to come. Unrestfulness generates irritability. Thus, it is highly recommended to reduce stress before bedtime and reading is one of the simplest ways. But, what to read?
This is a highly subjective choice, unique to each person. I’ve personally concluded that a spiritual book is the most beneficial of all. Like a Louie story, a biography of a saint or an inspiring person is the best choice for our internal mill. If our mind dwells on goodness and virtue through the night, we will naturally desire to become better persons.