Can't Stop Falling Asleep While Reading? There's a Reason You Can't Stay Awake

Why does reading make you feel sleepy? There's a scientific explanation for the annoying, but preventable, habit.

Meg Dowell - Author

Aug. 23 2022, Published 3:07 p.m. ET

Couple reading in bed
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It happened again, huh? You fully intended to read just a few chapters of your book and begrudgingly woke up from an impromptu nap 20 minutes later instead.

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If you constantly find yourself dozing off while reading a book, don’t worry – you’re not the only one. Why does reading make you sleepy — and how do you make it stop?

Why does reading make you sleepy?

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Falling asleep while reading is almost purely physiological. When you read, your eyes physically move from left to right and back again. Your eyes are attached to muscles, which tire out the same way your calf muscles might feel weak after leg day.

When your eye muscles get tired, your eyes automatically start to close. And that’s a clear signal to your brain that it’s sleep time – even if you’re in the middle of the most exciting chapter in the book.

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There’s one thing that increases your chances of falling asleep while reading more than anything else — and that’s sleep deprivation. If you’re already tired and you snuggle in with a book, you’re pretty much setting yourself up for a nap before you even sit down.

It also depends where you’re reading.

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When you cozy up with a good book, it makes sense that you’d want to do so in a comfortable place — a chair, the couch, or even in bed with a few of your best fluffy pillows.

Unfortunately, the more comfortable you are, the more your body will respond to your brain’s call to shut down.

It’s a natural human instinct to relax when in a comfortable place. While you don’t want to be uncomfortable while reading, you don’t want to get so relaxed that your body trades reading for dreaming.

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There are ways to read more without falling asleep.

Reading a book
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Sorry to crush your sweatpants-and-chill spirit, but the most common advice for avoiding falling asleep while reading is to not read in bed. If you want to get technical, the best reading position, scientifically, is to sit in a chair with your book in front of you, preferably at a desk. Good posture and quality ergonomics are your best friend, even if your bed is calling your name.

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Also never underestimate the benefit of good lighting. Even if you’re reading on a screen, overhead lighting creates an environment that discourages sleep.

Be honest with yourself, though, and listen to your body. If you’ve reread the same paragraph 12 times and you just can’t keep your eyes open, it might be time to put the book down and get some much-needed rest. Believe it or not, the book will still be there — hopefully with your place still marked — in the morning.

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