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Is Reading on a Kindle or iPad Bad For Sleep?

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Feb 25, 2022

Blue light refers to a spectrum of light frequencies that are known to suppress melatonin (the hormone that makes you sleepy) and makes us more alert.

There is ample research connecting blue light to insomnia and sleep problems in general when exposed to it at night.

All screens of common devices emit some level of blue light from them. This includes laptops, Kindles, iPads, and phones.

Is it bad enough to impair your sleep?

We’re going to take a quick look at research that has looked at reading before bedtime (both with books and screens).

Is Reading Before Bed Good For Sleep?

Let’s start by taking a look at how reading books at night affects sleep:

  • A study of preschoolers found that reading at bedtime led to longer total nighttime sleep duration (1).
  • An online study with community participation revealed that 42% of participants who started reading before sleep felt their sleep improved (compared to 28% in the not reading control group) (2).
  • A study of behaviors in students found that reading books or Kindle books at bedtime was associated with an earlier bedtime, suggesting that reading may make it easier to maintain a sleep schedule (3).

In general, it seems that reading is a better thing to do than typical habits, which usually include watching TV or even eating.

Research on Reading From a Screen in Bed Before Sleeping

There are a couple studies that do look at the effects of reading from a screen.

One study of university-aged students found a few interesting things (4):

  • There was no effect of reading on sleep onset latency (the time it takes to fall asleep). Note that this was self-reported, so it’s possible the accuracy isn’t great.
  • Illumination (i.e. exposure to light) was higher using an iPad than a book (58.3 vs 26.7 lux). Not exactly surprising, but it’s interesting to know that you’re exposed to about twice the illumination with an iPad vs with a book (and whatever background lighting).
  • Reading from an iPad decreased subjective sleepiness and delayed slow wave sleep compared to reading a physical book.

So while reading from the tablet didn’t make it significantly harder to get to sleep, it may have affected sleep quality by changing the structure of sleep.

Another study examined the sleep habits of 532 students (5). Unfortunately they grouped reading on a Kindle or tablet together with playing games and surfing the web.

The results showed that media usage at night was associated with insomnia symptoms, but we don’t know how much of that was attributed to reading vs other screen usage.

SummaryThere’s limited research on the effect of reading from a tablet before bed. So far, it suggests that reading from a tablet results in a relatively high amount of light exposure, and while it doesn’t make it that much harder to get to sleep for most people, there does appear to be some risk.

Kindle vs iPad for Reading in Bed

One variable to consider is that not all reading devices are made equally, although modern devices tend to be pretty similar.

An analysis showed that the light emissions produced by a tablet (iPad Air), e-reader (Kindle Paperwhite 1st generation), and smartphone (iPhone 5s) were all very similar (6).

However, some models like the Kindle Paperwhite are side lit (instead of backlit like phones and most tablets), which may reduce light exposure.

Is Reading From an Ebook Reader That Bad?

It seems like reading from a Kindle or iPad is better than watching TV or playing games late at night, but not by as much as you might think.

It also depends on what you read. You don’t want to pick a book that engrosses you and gets your brain going. Instead, find one with a nice relaxing plot that will put you in the right mood to sleep.

Ways to Improve Sleep While Reading From a Kindle or iPad

If you really want to read from a Kindle, iPad, or other tablet at night, there are a few things you can do to reduce any negative effects:

Test How Much Reading From a Screen Affects Your Sleep

Reading from a tablet before sleeping is going to affect everyone differently.

Anecdotally, some people have no issues, while others do.

What you can do is test how much it affects you.

Try not reading before bed for a week (or do it from a physical book) and record your subjective sleep quality. Then try reading from your Kindle or iPad for a week and see if the results change.

References

  1. Reading at Bedtime Associated With Longer Nighttime Sleep in Latino Preschoolers
  2. Does reading a book in bed make a difference to sleep in comparison to not reading a book in bed
  3. Quantity, Content, and Context Matter
  4. Reading from an iPad or from a book in bed
  5. The Association Between Use of Electronic Media in Bed Before Going to Sleep and Insomnia Symptoms, Daytime Sleepiness, Morningness, and Chronotype
  6. Current light-emitting devices – adverse sleep properties and preventative strategies

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.