Late Night Learning: The Benefits of Reading Before Bed

What do you do before you go to bed? If you’re Bill Gates, you’ll read for an hour. That’s what the principal founder of the tech giant Microsoft does. He has a formidable reputation for being a bookworm and has discussed his bedtime rituals with the media.

The reading comes after he’s washed the dinner dishes, another part of his evening routine. Back to his reading, though…. Some books have kept him well up past his bedtime, he has admitted, and you can picture this humble man, sitting up there with his back resting against a nice, comfortable headboard and the lamp on, reading into the small hours. Then 7:00 am rolls around and it’s time to get up again, just like it is for many of us.

Which books have kept Bill up all night?

Bill spoke of some of the books that have compelled him to keep turning the pages. He did this in a tweet that contained a video of the different books. Not going to lie. There are some mindbenders in there. Fascinating though they are, not all of them will make for the lightest bedtime reading, so strap yourself in.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

You’ve probably seen this one in Waterstones, Blackwell’s or other good booksellers. The book does what it says on the tin and that is provide a brief history of humankind. Our IT guru didn’t quite agree with all the points in the book, but did agree that it gave him a better understanding of what it means to be human, which is a big win when you consider he’s also a philanthropist.

The Vital Question

This book tackles one of the biggest mysteries on the planet: how did life on Earth begin? Fundamentally, ‘The Vital Question’ concerns itself with this issue, but it’s a book of broad scope and explores the relationships between energy and genes.

How to Not Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking

This title has snoozer written all over it, but if you think you’d have to love maths to enjoy the book, you’re dead wrong. According to Bill, the writer, Jordan Ellenberg, has written about the subject in a ‘funny, smooth and accessible’ way. The book takes situations from everyday life and discusses the deep maths underneath them, maths which we don’t necessarily perceive or consider.


Hold onto your hats with this hard-hitting science fiction novel. The Moon disintegrates, unleashing a series of apocalyptic events, and it could be curtains for human life, so the fight is on to preserve the human race. Do we succeed? You’d have to read the novel to find out! Bill has called it a ‘visionary’ read — and he’s not even a major fan of science fiction writing — so why not give it a try and see if you agree with him?

The Power to Compete: An Entrepreneur and an Economist on Revitalizing Japan in the Global Economy

Now this is where the reading could get a little heavy. Books on the ‘dismal science’, as economics is known, are an interesting read but not always an easy one. Being a fan of Japan itself and having visited the country numerous times, Bill enjoyed the book, which is a series of conversations between a father and son — one an economist, the other an entrepreneur — about the Japanese economy and how the economy can return to its former glory. Always worth a try.

The benefits of reading before bedtime

If reading before bed has paid off for Bill Gates, it could certainly work for you because dipping into the pages of a good book has a variety of potential benefits. Here are just a few that might persuade you to pick up a paperback or fire up a Kindle before it’s lights out:

Less screen time

Spending time on screens before we go to bed interferes with our circadian rhythm, which regulates sleep. The more time we spend with our head in a book and the less at a screen, the better. The black and white text doesn’t interfere with our sleep like the glow of a screen does.

Less stress

When you’re reading about what happened in the past, who committed the crime, how somebody’s life turned out or anything else that your book of choice may contain, you’re not worrying about a deadline or about the chores you have to do the next day. Research has shown that reading can lower stress levels by 68% and is more effective at doing this than listening to music, going for a walk or having a cup of tea.

Greater empathy

Ever wanted to be a better person? Reading might be the way forward. A study has shown that reading fiction can make you a nicer, more empathetic person. The authors of the paper distinguished between ‘writerly’ fiction, which encourages the reader more to understand the characters and their emotions, and ‘readerly’ fiction, where the writer dictates the narrative and entertains rather than urge the reader to seek their own meanings and interpretations. Reading is a natural brain trainer and fiction can help you to process situations better emotionally in the real world, although some people refute this idea.

More protection against dementia

Reading helps to improve memory. A study tested 300 adults’ memory and thinking processes every year for six years, and asked about their reading habits from childhood to their adult age. The researchers then examined the participants’ brains after they had died and found that the ones who had read had protected their brains from the injuries often associated with memory decline. The adults who had continued reading into their old age lessened memory decline by more than 30%, compared to engagement in other forms of mental activity. There were also the fewest signs of dementia in the ones who had read the most.

More creativity

As you’ll have seen from the books Bill Gates has been reading, successful people don’t just stick to marketing and business books. They read widely, which helps them to broaden their minds and see things from different perspectives. That can include problems, people and situations, and they can approach them differently and more creatively. They’ll follow their projects with more passion.

As well as knowing computers inside out, Bill Gates has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and, as the world knows, has put it to stellar use. Whether you’re following his example to pursue your own dreams or otherwise, a little reading before bedtime will work wonders for your mental health and participation in society. Now, what are you going to read first?