The benefits of reading books are a wonderful way of learning or escaping, but there may be more to breaking out your bookmark than you think. Researchers say that reading is a powerful way of making yourself a more well-rounded person, and the improvements go beyond boosting your imagination or sharpening your vocabulary.
Here’s a look at some of the lesser-known benefits of reading books.
1. Sharpens mind-reading ability
No, this isn’t about the ability to magically know next week’s winning lottery numbers (sorry). Rather, it’s about being in tune with those around you. Researchers from The New School for Social Research discovered that those who read literary fiction as opposed to popular fiction or non-fiction are better able to accurately gauge the emotions people are feeling based simply on observing facial cues—especially looking at eyes.
The findings, which were published in the journal Science, explain that there’s a link between reading and cognitive processing. The benefits of reading books literary fiction, these experts say, allows individuals to learn about various personalities and life complexities which they then incorporate into their own understanding of situations around them.
2. Increases empathy
If you’re not one who easily relates to others when they’re expressing certain emotions, getting engrossed in reading may help you to become more caring. While you might not start bursting into tears at the same time as others do, experts have noted that people who read fiction have said they feel emotionally transported while reading and are therefore more inclined to be more understanding of others.
3. Boosts productivity
It’s estimated that in just five short minutes, a person shifts back and forth between a wide variety of tasks—from checking email and talking with someone to posting on Twitter and scrolling through Facebook. As a result, people tend to be more stressed and anxiety-ridden.
Reading—without other technological gadgets around—allows you to focus strictly on the story at hand, rather than juggling a multitude of thoughts. You’ll find that just 20 minutes of reading can sharpen your focus so that you’re more productive once you engage in other activities.
4. May keep Alzheimer’s disease at bay
Much like you may exercise to keep your body strong, it’s important to engage in behaviors that keep your brain functioning optimally too. Participating in activities such as reading or working with puzzles has been shown to strengthen brain activity; one study even found that those who routinely participate in brain-bolstering hobbies like reading are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
5. Helps you sleep better
Between long work hours, errands and the usual life demands, it’s often difficult for people to fall (and stay) asleep. benefits of reading books just before bedtime can have a calming effect that sends signals telling your body it’s time to unwind and go to sleep. This is only beneficial when you’re not reading from an electronic device that emits light, as light can impede your body’s ability to rest.
So, before going to bed, consider switching from a routine that makes you emotionally charged (e.g. watching the news, listening to upbeat music or talking with an argumentative person) and spend some time reading instead. If you do this often enough, your body will come to anticipate the downtime and prepare you for plenty of hours of solid rest.
6. Allows you to gain insight
Have you ever heard a lyric or read an inspirational phrase that stopped you in your tracks? Perhaps it made you think about something in a way you never before considered or made you reevaluate an aspect of your life.
The same can be said of books. Sometimes, having alone time with a book can give you emotional insight that redirects your thoughts in ways your friends—no matter how well-intentioned they are—can’t. The way the author writes, how a character overcomes obstacles and a story with a surprising end can all help you gain more insight into your own habits.
That’s the fun of it—you never know which sentence or chapter could potentially make a huge impact on your life that you might not have otherwise entertained.
So, go for it. Read more, and you’ll soon be on your way to improving productivity, boosting brain health and possibly even resolving personal conflicts!