In 2019, the average college student spent 8-10 hours on their smartphone every day, averaging about 3,285 hours that year. Due to the months we’ve spent in lockdown and taking online classes in 2020, one can only assume that that number has increased. On top of the hours we spend on the computer watching lectures and working on assignments, with apps like Netflix, TikTok and Instagram, we consume so much additional online content. Spending excessive amounts of time in front of a screen is not good for our eyes or our mental health.
So, what’s the solution? I may sound like a grandma here, but it’s the truth: Read a book! Reading physically gives you the chance to turn off your phone for a bit and distance yourself from constant distractions like scrolling through Instagram or TikTok for 10 minutes only to realize it’s actually been two hours. And it’s fun (no, really)! Just like your favorite Netflix show, a book allows you to escape into another world for 30 minutes to an hour at a time.
Many popular shows are actually based on novels. The Queen’s Gambit, Game of Thrones and the Umbrella Academy are all TV shows adapted from books, just to name a few. Plus, a book is always better than its TV or movie counterpart; adaptations tend to leave some details out, and, by reading the book version, you get to explore even more of your favorite worlds again. If you’re not into longer novels, you can read a memoir by your favorite celebrity or you can read a comic book about your favorite Marvel or DC character. Just like the overwhelming amount of content on streaming services, there are so many books that you can sink your teeth into.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, in addition to entertainment, there are actually numerous health benefits to dedicating just a bit of time to reading each day. For starters, reading for pleasure for just 30 minutes a day can reduce the physical and emotional signs of stress. College is stressful (to say the least) and being on our screens all day, every day isn’t helping. Reading, outside of school work, can be a great first step in combating that anxiety we’re all feeling. While an app like TikTok may help relieve stress, the blue light from your phone convinces your body that it’s still daytime and this can interfere with much needed sleep after a tough day.
According to Dr. Heidi Moawad, the Mayo Clinic suggests that making reading a part of your nightly routine can help relax you before bed and help you sleep better. Personally, my sleep schedule has gone out the window during this pandemic. I used to be asleep by 11 each night and now I often struggle to fall asleep before 12:30 a.m. But now, after around 45 minutes of reading, I am exhausted and I fall asleep pretty quickly.
Additionally, reading has been found to strengthen connections in the brain. In fact, a study in 2013 found that reading a book increases communication between the areas of the brain that regulate speech and language processing. Yet another benefit to reading is that it can increase your vocabulary, which can be a simple way to improve your performance on graduate school entrance exams and job interviews.
Moreover, reading consistently also helps relieve symptoms of depression, as it makes people feel less isolated and alone. When you’re reading about characters you love, it’s almost like you’re a part of the story. As college students, especially during a pandemic, our mental health isn’t at an all-time high. School is already stressful, but now we’ve got the added anxiety of COVID-19 and self isolation. The perfect way to stop yourself from constantly checking GauchoSpace and worrying about the state of the planet is to open a good book and read about a different world with fascinating characters.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Well, I don’t like reading…” or “I don’t have time to read…” but that can change! According to Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist and director of nutritional & lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, the easiest way to start reading more is to pick a designated time to read each day or each week. This way, it becomes a part of your routine and, soon enough, you’ll want to pick up a book without even thinking about it.
When you’ve watched everything on Netflix or you just need some time away from a bright screen: Read. I promise it’ll become your favorite part of the day. And you don’t have to come out guns blazing and commit to reading a 300-page novel. To start out, commit to reading an hour a week. Not only will you enjoy yourself, but you’ll also see a reduction in your stress and an improvement in your sleep. Even if you only read a couple of pages a day, you’ll also see a decrease in your screen time, which we all definitely need to work on.
If you want some tips on how to get started, check out these three videos on Youtube. They offer some great advice on how to get into reading and how to increase the amount of reading you do. So, now that you’re done reading this, go crack open a book and enjoy!
Julia Pekala believes that reading and taking time away from screens is the best way to cope with the combined stress of online courses and a pandemic.