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BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

Why you should be reading more

Author: Katrina Kidd

As graduate students and researchers, most of our time is spent reading papers related to our research. While it may seem challenging to imagine sparing time for non-academic reading, it is important to remember the immense benefits that recreational reading can have on our well-being. In this article, I’ll summarize the important benefits of reading!

When we think about the benefits of reading, the most obvious will be the benefits to our comprehension, vocabulary, breadth of general knowledge, and academic success (Clark & Rumbold, 2006; Whitten et al., 2019). Beyond that, here are some other benefits of reading that you may not be aware of: 

1.  It improves sleep

·  Reading for a brief period at night can lead to longer sleep duration and better sleep quality in adults (Sella et al., 2022).

2.  It combats social isolation and feelings of loneliness

·  Past studies have found that reading and discussing it with others can help to combat feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Reading alone and forcing the recall of the story within a social setting is necessary to gain these benefits, which cannot be achieved by reading alone. (Hilhorst et al., 2018)

3.  It reduces your risk of burnout

·  Multiple studies on healthcare workers, including medical residents and palliative care nurses, found that non-medical reading for enjoyment can reduce the risk of emotional burnout. In these healthcare workers, the most common types of burnout are emotional exhaustion and depersonalization (Marchalik et al., 2019a). However, consistent non-medical reading decreased the risk of emotional exhaustion by 19% and reduced the risk of depersonalization by 44%. When residents were asked what form of relaxation they used, answers included yoga, meditation, exercise, and reading for pleasure. When comparing all these methods, reading was the only form of relaxation that significantly reduced the risk of burnout. (Marchalik et al., 2019b).

4.  Fiction reading improves social cognition and critical thinking

·  Being a consistent fiction reader has been shown to improve social cognitive performance above those that read non-fiction or don’t read consistently for leisure (Tamir, 2016). In addition, research has shown that fiction, compared to non-fiction, can promote critical thinking due to the way it presents ideas. Fiction writing subtly conveys deep understandings of the world and complex ideas, helping to drive critical evaluations of a story and its underlying meaning (Hollis, 2021).

5.  It reduces mild symptoms of depression and anxiety

·  Reading for pleasure has been proposed as a possible form of relieving mild psychological distress. Referred to as bibliotherapy, reading may present a brief, affordable and accessible form of help for individuals with mild symptoms of depression and anxiety (Carney & Robertson, 2022). One randomized clinical trial assessed the benefit of reading self-help books for one month, finding that it successfully reduced symptoms in individuals with mild depression. These benefits were sustained after three years (Moldovan et al., 2013).

Although finding the time and motivation to read material outside of your research can be challenging, we should consider how important it can be to all aspects of our well-being. As mentioned above, reading for relaxation, especially fiction, can have benefits that outweigh those of other activities.

To maximize the benefits and get the most out of your reading experience, try to set aside at least a bit of time before bed to (put away your phone and) read a few pages. When possible, get together a group of friends to read a book and discuss it together. You could also join 
McMaster Book Club or Cozy Reading Circle - Book Club Edition.

Finally, when you don’t have time to sit down and read, audiobooks or e-books are alternative methods for reading on the go. Varying your reading medium between physical books, audiobooks, and e-books will not impact your reading comprehension, and you’ll still get all the benefits 
(Kretzschmar et al., 2013)

 Happy reading 😀


Carney, J., & Robertson, C. (2022). Five studies evaluating the impact on mental health and mood of recalling, reading, and discussing fiction. Plos one17(4), e0266323.

Clark, C., & Rumbold, K. (2006). Reading for Pleasure: A Research Overview. National Literacy Trust.

Hilhorst, S., Lockey, A., & Speight, T. (2018). A society of readers.

Hollis, H. (2021). Readers’ experiences of fiction and nonfiction influencing critical thinking. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 09610006211053040.

Marchalik, D., Rodriguez, A., Namath, A., Krasnow, R., Obara, S., Padmore, J., & Groninger, H. (2019a). The impact of non-medical reading on clinician burnout: a national survey of palliative care providers. Ann Palliat Med8(4), 428-435.

Marchalik, D., C. Goldman, C., FL Carvalho, F., Talso, M., H. Lynch, J., Esperto, F., ... & E. Krasnow, R. (2019b). Resident burnout in USA and European urology residents: an international concern. BJU international124(2), 349-356.

Moldovan, R., Cobeanu, O., & David, D. (2013). Cognitive bibliotherapy for mild depressive symptomatology: randomized clinical trial of efficacy and mechanisms of change. Clinical psychology & psychotherapy20(6), 482-493.

Sella, E., Palumbo, R., Di Domenico, A., & Borella, E. (2022). How emotions induced by reading influence sleep quality in young and older adults. Aging & Mental Health, 1-9.

Tamir, D. I., Bricker, A. B., Dodell-Feder, D., & Mitchell, J. P. (2016). Reading fiction and reading minds: The role of simulation in the default network. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience11(2), 215-224.

Whitten, C., Labby, S., & Sullivan, S. L. (2019). The impact of pleasure reading on academic success. Journal of Multidisciplinary Graduate Research2(1).