At Saatva, we love sleeping and we love reading. So, of course, bedtime stories are some of our favorite things in the world. In an age when screens consume almost every waking hour of our lives and there seems to be a tech solution to every problem, it’s important to remember why good old books are still a treasure.
Are Bedtime Stories Over?
These days, the humble activity of bedtime reading seems to be waning. Surveys in recent years have shown significant declines in the number of parents who read to their children every night. Respondents blame stress, hectic work schedules, and attention deficit in their children. Moreover, there are huge disparities in reading rates across socio-economic divides. Children from wealthier families hear millions more words than their less privileged peers, which has a measurable impact on their development by as early as 18 months. That’s one reason why the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends parents read aloud to their children regularly, from birth.
Children whose parents read to them more frequently show more complex brain activity, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics. As part of the study, several preschool children heard stories read aloud as their brains were scanned in real time. The authors concluded that “greater home reading exposure is positively associated with activation of brain areas supporting mental imagery and narrative comprehension.” In other words—children who are read stories may have significant advantages in future years since their brains are more adept at creating mental images based on words they hear.
The same can’t be said of exposure to screens. As Dr. John Hutton, a clinical research fellow at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, told the New York Times, books may stimulate learning and creativity in ways that cartoons and videos cannot. Hutton worries that videos could “short-circuit” the process of imagination that occurs naturally when we hear something described to us in words. Kids are “not having to imagine the story; it’s just being fed to them,” he said. As a result, children who grow up on a diet of TV alone may lack the imaginative capacity of their more literate peers.
When we read from books, we’re also exposing our children to more complex language than they would usually hear from adults in everyday speech. We’re all prone to “baby talk” when we meet a young child because we think they will understand more simple speech, but if we constantly talk down to young children, they won’t develop more sophisticated linguistic skills as quickly.
Bedtime Reading Creates Quality Time
In addition to their quantifiable physiological benefits, bedtime stories also offer great opportunities for social bonding between parents and their children. Reading a story allows you to introduce a child to strange new aspects of the world every night, and to share an investment in a narrative that can explore the whole range of human emotion. The oral tradition of storytelling is ancient. For generations, we’ve gathered to hear about legends and myths. Therefore it’s no surprise that people—and children especially—can be so enthralled by a tale well told. When you read to your kids, you’re part of a much deeper history than you might think!
Reading to children at night can help get them excited about bedtime which, as any parent knows, is no mean feat. As we’ve discussed before, a regular bedtime schedule is essential for healthy sleep habits, and it’s especially important for kids. There’s a reason why so many of us have fond memories of bedtime stories: because they were a frequent and dependable part of our lives—one that we could rely on and look forward to. It’s a way for parents and children to transition from the hectic pace of the day to the calm cadence of night. Your kids get to learn from you and you get to see where their imagination takes them.
If you’re not in the habit of bedtime stories, use this International Children’s Book Day to get started. It may seem impossible to get your kids to sit still even for a moment, but if you can find one or two really good bedtime stories, they may be hooked forever.
Need some ideas? Here’s a list of best bedtime stories for the sweetest dreams.