Research by a Robert Morris University psychologist reveals that people who sleep relatively few hours each night are more likely than others to read for pleasure – and not just because they stay up late plowing through the latest John Grisham novel.
People who sleep fewer than six hours each night may engage in pleasure reading because their brains require more stimulation than those who sleep longer, according to a paper by William E. Kelly in the journal Reading Improvement.
Other researchers, using EEGs, have found that short-sleepers have suboptimal cortical arousal, a condition that Kelly compares to an automobile that idles slowly when it’s parked in neutral. Those people’s brains are insufficiently stimulated, leading them – perhaps unconsciously -- to compensate by seeking out stimuli in their environment, including reading and other cognitive activities that will get their neurons firing.
“Reading boosts their idle speed,” said Kelly, an associate professor of psychology at RMU.
The study examined the sleep and reading habits of 223 college students, including older, nontraditional students. The students self-reported their average sleep duration and completed a survey to gauge their reading habits. Short sleep duration was significantly related to higher reports of pleasure reading, according to the study.
Kelly allows for the possibility that the cause and effect relationship is the opposite: People who read a lot may simply have less time to sleep. But the study participants were asked to report their habitual sleep patterns, and Kelly said it is unlikely that people would consistently lose sleep as a result of heavy reading.
Determining cause and effect in sleep research is difficult, however, because sleep patterns cannot be easily manipulated. Kelly said that further research is needed to determine whether reading and other characteristics of short-sleepers, such as anxiety, are the result of sleeping less or its cause.
“Short sleepers tend to have a host of more negative psychological attributes. They are more neurotic. They have more eating disorders,” said Kelly. “What makes these people different?”