Why it’s so hard to put down the book and go to bed already

I am so guilty of this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “just a few more pages” and turned out the light an hour later.

This is especially terrible because I need my sleep. My goal is to turn the lights out at 10:00 pm every night, not reading “one more chapter”–even if I am in bed. That doesn’t count.

Two things are curing me of this bad habit.

First, I’m becoming more aware of the extent of the problem. Between my daily checklist (where I record lights-out time) and my new Jawbone Up (which tracks my actual sleep), I notice when I stay up too late. I can’t tell myself a chapter will only take “a few minutes” anymore, because I’ve been paying attention–and I know it’s more like twenty. And if it takes me 15 minutes to fall asleep, and I don’t turn out the lights till 10:30, I’m in trouble.

good book

I sometimes pretend to myself that I have insomnia, when what I really have is a good book and inadequate respect for tomorrow. 

Second, I finally realized that good books are hard to put down. It’s that simple.

Rachel Aaron explains this in her ebook 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. (Writers: it’s 99 cents and totally worth it.)

“Chapter breaks should increase dramatic tension….If the end of a chapter is a good place to put down a book, that’s exactly what the reader will do, so I make sure I never give them the chance. Putting down my book should be the hardest thing my reader has to do that day.”

Ironically, knowing it’s supposed to be hard somehow makes it easier. A good book shouldn’t be put-down-able. At 10:00 p.m., when I’d really rather keep reading, I tell myself I’m thrilled to be reading a great book. I notice how the author handles the chapter’s end: ratcheting up the tension like that. Well done, author, I can tell myself.

And then I can close it. And go to bed.

Well, usually.

Is it hard for you to put down the book and go to sleep already? 


Leave A Comment
  1. Linda says:

    When your children are teenagers and want to sleep late on Saturday morning you will have many a Friday night to fudge bedtime. 🙂 It’s fun and makes you feel just a little bit wicked!

  2. keely says:

    Yes! I just did this last night, even though we had company over and we all (3 kids included) stayed up late. But I blame you, as it is one of the books you recommended… “What Alice Forgot.” 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Oh no! I’m sorry I kept you up too late, but then again I’m pretty sure I did that myself. That one really had me turning the pages!

  3. Tim says:

    My wife and I call that the point of not return: When you have to keep reading to the end no matter how late it is. I try to stop myself before getting to that point!

  4. Karlyne says:

    I rarely ever read at night just because of that problem! (And also, because even if I do manage to put it down, my brain is still thinking about it and so I can’t get to sleep.) What I do instead is crosswords; they never fail to put me to sleep within about 15 minutes!

    I save my reading for mornings (and through-out the day), which means sometimes I have to get up early, but then there’s that perfect cup of coffee to go with that perfect book….

    • Anne says:

      Coffee + good book = a match made in heaven.

      I used to love crosswords but I never do them anymore. I must consider this as an occasional addition to the pre-bedtime routine.

  5. Katie says:

    Yup, I stopped reading at bedtime for precisely that reason. Also, I don’t read during night nursings anymore. Because that baby nursed himself back to sleep but he’s only going to stay that way for an hour or two, and if I spend even a quarter of that reading, I will regret regret regret it.

    During other seasons of my life, though, sleep was less precious a commodity, and I’ve spent many a late night reading “just one more chapter!”

  6. Breanne says:

    Oh, what an interesting concept, I never thought of it like that. But it is so true! And I need to make a checklist for getting into bed, it’s been creeping way too late and I pay for it the next day. =/

  7. Anne says:

    Oh, yeah, it’s hard to put down the book. It is so frustrating when life doesn’t allow book time, or I am so sleepy that I don’t have the energy to read. I feel cheated. lol

  8. HopefulLeigh says:

    When I decided to deal with my insomnia and put myself on a sleep schedule several years ago, I had to make peace with the fact that I could no longer read fiction once I got into bed. In fact, if I choose to bring my novel to bed, I acknowledge that finishing the book (or reading a big chunk of it) is more important than getting much sleep. Instead, I stick to memoirs (though not all qualify as bedtime reading) or nonfiction for my bedtime reading. It helps settle my brain a bit and I don’t mind putting them to the side when it’s time to turn out the light.

    • Anne says:

      Oh, interesting. I’ve gotten very careful since New Year’s with what kind of fiction I read before bed. (Because it’s usually fiction or memoir, and very rarely non-fiction.)

      I also really love browsing cookbooks before bed–the really gorgeous ones with lots of photos and text. It’s relaxing, but it’s also easy to close the cover and turn out the lights.

  9. “A good book shouldn’t be put-down-able.”
    Anne, this is so insightful, and like you, I can’t believe I didn’t realize it before! I think that this will help me to turn out the light as well!

  10. Anna says:

    I had such a hard time with this for years! I would stay up hours past a decent time to be asleep, and even worse, when I finally finished the book I couldn’t go to sleep for thinking about it all. I finally instituted hard and fast rules about what I will and won’t read at bedtime. I only read books that aren’t page turners, won’t upset me or be overly intriguing. That sounds like I must read terrible things before bed, but actually it’s left room for re-reads or classic fiction, biographies and short stories. I also often try to put the book down in the middle of the chapter and I never finish a book at night because then I won’t sleep. Odd but true.

  11. Amanda says:

    I was just telling my hubby that I have this problem! I used to read constantly, and I have so little reading time now with three kids. I think I try to stretch what little I have, but then I just wake up late and crabby. I’ve decided to start setting an alarm to tell me to stop.

  12. Cori says:

    I’m too tired to read before bed. In this stage of life I can’t read. Any chance I get, I’d rather sleep…

    Hopefully someday I will read again.

    • Anne says:

      I can see the little one in your avatar. 🙂 Someday, you WILL read again! But I remember the stage when I fell asleep every time I lay down…or even sat down on particularly sleepy days!

  13. YES. I’m terrible at this. I mean, I’m a night owl to start with but give me a good book and HELLO, 2am! It’s ridiculous. Like I’m a child who needs a grown-up to take the book away and force me to go to sleep already!

    And I’m so very anxious to finish the dumb book I’m reading right now that I’ll probably end up staying awake later than I should to finally get through it. Even though I don’t love it. Yes. I have a problem…

  14. Stacey says:

    It is so hard! Especially now that I have a Kindle Paperwhite so I don’t have to leave a light on- now I can read and stay up late without keeping my husband up!

    • Allison says:

      Oh this is me! I used to eventually turn out the light out of guilt after he flipped and sighed enough times – now thanks to the Paperwhite, that’s never an issue 🙂

  15. Amanda says:

    This is why I’m not allowed to read as I’m getting into bed. I’ll turn my brain back on! If I’m having trouble sleeping, though, I allow myself to read until I can’t keep my eyes open. It’s one of the best tricks I have to put myself to sleep!

  16. Elizabeth says:

    This one’s been on my mind a lot in the last few months, as my ever-growing and wonderfully ambitious book list takes on a life of its own (I want to read all of the things). I’ve experimented off and on with reading non-fiction during the day/fiction at night and then switch it around to see what nighttime reading is better. But you’re absolutely right about this one – I’m finding I can get just as wrapped up in either if it’s a good book.

    I do want to find the right mix of engaging enough to get excited about to read in bed, but not enough to keep me up *too* late. It’s not easy! I do find I have a rhythm with morning reads (not too heavy or densely packed with info). Maybe nighttime reads deserve a list of their own?

  17. I used to stay up ridiculously late all the time before having kids. So what if the next day I was miserably tired – I could sleep in if it wasn’t a work day, or go to bed early, or catch up on the weekend.

    Yeah, it doesn’t work so well with small children. I’ve had to learn to restrain myself. Every once in awhile I catch myself reading beyond bedtime, but now it’s 45 minutes late, rather than the 3 or 4 hours late I used to do.

  18. Esther L. says:

    I hate to even admit how late I went to bed last night! I’m working my way through Dan Brown’s new book, Inferno. Truly, it’s just more of the same–like his previous books. However, the end of each chapter is such a cliffhanger that you just keep going. I put the book down finally because I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer and was actually falling asleep while reading. Thank goodness the kids slept in a bit this morning! 🙂

  19. Sarah says:

    I found a cure for this a few years ago. I stop in the middle of the chapter, in the middle of a paragraph, in a middle of a sentence. Roughly : ) I try to pick a spot that’s not to exciting.

  20. Aislinn Mortensen says:

    The dramatic tension finishes most of the chapters I read so I pay attention during the story from when there is a period at the very bottom of the page so I can read the new page tomorrow and not lose where I am on the page.

  21. Sara K. says:

    As much as I love to read, reading before bedtime usually makes me sleepy. When I feel my eyes starting to shut I just put the book down and turn out the light. This works even with really good books!

    There are occasional times when my need to read overcomes my exhaustion. Then I really regret it in the morning 🙂

  22. shannon says:

    Ergh, the struggle is real! I always ask myself – “is it worth it to find out what happens in this story right now if it means I’ll be tired tomorrow?” Sometimes it’s totally worth it, but more often it’s not, because I really hate being tired all day and most books aren’t worth that sacrifice. Having that moment of intentional choice really helps me feel more responsible – I CHOSE to feel sleepy all day because it really was worth it!

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