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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Bedtime Reading Causes Writer’s Block


Many writers read in bed as part of our bedtime routine. We read until we’re tired, then it’s lights out.

But if you read in bed by the glow of a Nook, Kindle, iPad or other device, you may find that you read and read and never really feel tired. Not until you have to get up in the morning, that is.

Kindle and Nook readers may be staying up later reading, not because what they’re reading is so good, but simply because they’re using the Kindle or Nook.

Electronic devices — computers, e-readers, smart phones and tablets — mess with your sleep cycles, which in turn messes with your creativity and can lead to writer’s block or other forms of resistance.

Is a Kindle, Nook, iPad Worse than Staying up with an Old-fashioned Paper Book?

Yes.

The blue light emitted by these electronic devices has been shown to “alert the brain, suppress the melatonin and shift your body clock all at the same time,” according to Harvard Medical School sleep researcher Steven Lockley.

This isn’t a problem during the day when you want to be alert, but it is a problem after the sun goes down.

The closer the blue light source is to your face, the more severe the effects. So TV doesn’t interfere with sleep as much as computers or e-readers.

How Does that Mess with Creativity?

If you artificially keep yourself awake, chances are you won’t get the sleep you need. And a sleep-deprived brain is incapable of creativity.

Every cognitive function — creative thinking, problem-solving, memory, attention and focus, mood, self-monitoring and motivating, learning, logical thinking — is significantly impaired by lack of sleep.

If that doesn’t convince you sleep is essential, consider this: sleep deprivation will make you lose muscle and gain fat!

(More info on the importance of sleep coming in Chapter 5 of Around the Writer’s Block.)

Turn Off Your e-reader to Turn On Creativity

Some devices can be adjusted to emit less blue light and newer devices will probably offer this feature more commonly in the future.

But if you can’t adjust the settings on your current device, you should stop using it at least an hour before you want to sleep.

So much for reading yourself to sleep, unless you revert to good old page books…

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10 Comments on “Bedtime Reading Causes Writer’s Block”

  1. Daphne Gray-Grant July 26, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    Hmm, but the kindle isn’t backlit, unlike the iPad! (I can’t comment on the Nook as I’ve never used one.) Are you SURE the (regular) kindle causes this reaction? I read my kindle at bedtime regularly and it’s never interfered with my sleep. The Fire may be different, if it’s backlit, which I think it is.

    Like

    • rosannebane July 26, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

      Hi Daphne,
      My apologies, I think I made an incorrect assumption about the basic Kindle and Nook. My source mentioned that Barnes & Noble and Amazon both declined requests for interviews regarding the blue light issue, so it may be the Kindle Fire that’s backlit with blue light. Thanks for letting me know that you’re not having trouble sleeping with your Kindle.

      Like

  2. Angela Foster July 26, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    I have been considering the purchase of a Kindle Fire so I could read in bed without a lamp. Thanks for the information, Rosanne. I think I will stick to my paperbacks!

    Like

    • rosannebane July 26, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

      Hi Angela,
      See the comment below from Boston2AZ and my reply. I’m not certain how much blue light the Kindle Fire emits — you might want to check on that before nixing it. Let me know if you get any info from Amazon about this.

      Like

  3. Boston2AZ July 25, 2012 at 11:21 pm #

    What is interesting is the actual article which is about laptops, tablets, and smartphones – all of which can be read in the dark because they give off light and none of which is an ereader. In fact, the only time in the article that the Kindle is mentioned is with reference to the Amazon tablet, which is the Kindle Fire, not the basic Kindle. I’m going to read now. i think I’ll sit in the dark and see how far I get in my latest Kindle book. Bet it won’t be far.

    Like

    • rosannebane July 26, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

      Boston2AZ, good point! I may have made assumptions about the more basic versions of the Kindle and Nook that are not warranted, and if so, I’m both apologetic and embarrassed.
      My source mentioned that Barnes & Noble and Amazon both declined requests for interviews regarding the blue light issue.

      Like

  4. jenowenby July 25, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    I just tweeted this too.

    Like

  5. jenowenby July 25, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    Very interesting information! I watch tv until I fall asleep. Is that better?

    Like

    • rosannebane July 26, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

      Jenowenby, because the TV is further from your face, the blue light effect drops significantly, so yes TV is better than tablets, computers, i-Phones and similar devices.

      Like

      • jenowenby July 26, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

        That is really interesting. I just would have never thought about it!

        Like

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