This nightly ritual relaxes me more than anything else I do throughout my day. And as someone who is prone to bouts of insomnia, this ritual gives me some of the best sleep I’ve had in a long time.
The ritual begins after Toku and I have eaten dinner and cleaned up and turned in for the night.
The first thing I do is put my laptop away.
I finish small tasks – logging the day’s workout or reading an article – and then I shut it and stash it under the bed. When I’m in bed, work doesn’t come with me.
After I put the laptop away, the second thing I do is read a book.
Not just any book, but a book book, the kind made of paper, the kind without a screen.
I settle into bed, and for about an hour or so, I read my book.
There is a bit of technology involved. I like to play music on my iPhone as I read – always the Chopin station on Pandora. But the iPhone isn’t used for anything else.
Often there’s an internal struggle. I run my own business, so there’s always something I need to work on. I love love love my work, but I’d be lying if I said that putting my laptop away didn’t give me a twinge of anxiety. I feel guilty that I don’t use that chunk of time to work on something.
No matter what, I stick to the ritual, and here’s why:
- Better sleep. When I first started my business and I didn’t know any better, I worked before bed. I always woke up the next morning feeling frazzled. Even if I slept for eight hours, they weren’t good eight hours. I realized it was the damn screen. Staring at a computer screen and then going straight to bed over stimulated my brain so that it never rested while I slept. Now, I cut myself off at least an hour before bed to give my brain time to power down.
- The Point of Diminishing Returns. By that time of day I’m so fried that anything I work on will come out as gobbledy-gook. I’m so tired that I’m far from the point of diminishing returns. Anything I create won’t be any good anyhow, so I may as well rest.
- Inner peace. Reading a book always relaxes me. I read a book before bed and I feel calmer, less anxious, more relaxed. I don’t lie awake in the middle of the night with my mind humming with tense thoughts. I find that by doing something calming and relaxing before bed helps me be calm and relaxed while I sleep.
- Creative Input. Julia Cameron talks about creative input in her book The Artist’s Way. We spend most of our time on output, on making things. But input feeds your creativity, gives it juice. I can’t train for a marathon without filling my body with high quality starches, vegetables, and proteins during training just like I can’t write this blog without reading a book every day.
“If you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King
He’s right, you know. When I stop reading, my writing suffers. If I spend too much time on the Internet or watching TV, I feel bland and a little subdued.
You’re not being lazy or too leisurely if you take the time each day to read a book. In fact it’s vital to the work that you do. It’s not always about escape or getting wrapped up in a good story, even though that’s not so bad. It’s about taking the time to nourish yourself.
When was the last time you sat down and read a book? Has it been a while, or is it something you do almost everyday?
Take at least 15 minutes this week for pleasure reading, and check back in here. How did you feel afterward? What did it do for you?