Reading in bed

I don’t know when I started reading in bed, but it was when I was very young. We used to load up on library books every week and I’d take several of them to bed with me. I liked to make a tent of my covers and read with a flashlight. The problem was that if I fell asleep while reading the batteries in the flashlight would be dead the next morning and often I didn’t have money to replace the batteries for a week or more, depending on the cost of batteries, the number of chores completed and my desire for other items that were sold at the dime store. Later, I got a flashlight with a push button that had to be held in to shine the light. That light would go out when I fell asleep. Problem solved.

In the meantime, with several nights when I had no flashlight, I would read to the light from the hallway since my brother didn’t want the room light left on after bedtime had been reached.

I became so practiced at reading myself to sleep that when I went to college, I discovered that I had a definite habit of falling asleep when I read, a talent that wasn’t exactly conducive to the reading loads of a college student. I had to teach myself not to read in bed and make myself read while sitting at a desk, sometimes with the typewriter at my side, outlining the text as I read.

It was also in my college years that I began drinking coffee. A cup with my breakfast kept me going strong through morning classes and drinking coffee with the father of my girlfriend made me think that I was appearing mature to him, something I definitely wanted to do. That addiction to caffeine lasted into my early sixties, but that is another story entirely,

I’ve returned to the practice of reading in bed. And I have discovered that, on occasion, I will nod off while reading at my desk as well.

For the most part there are no major problems with reading in bed as an adult. My wife occasionally will come into the bedroom, where I will be lying on the bed reading and ask me, “Are you sleeping?” Of course I deny the accusation, saying, “No, I’m reading!” to which she responds, “Maybe you should get your eyes checked. Most people don’t have their nose and forehead touching the book when they read.”

It is true that the new glasses with super flexible frames that don’t get bent from a little pressure are a real boon to me. Truth is, with my aging eyes, I can read without glasses almost as easily as I can read with them, and I often remove my glasses or slide them up on my forehead when reading anyway.

I have discovered a distinct advantage of reading books over magazines. Books tend to be printed on high quality paper with permanent inks. Magazines are often printed on thiner paper with inks that can smear. More than once I’ve gotten up from a nap and looked into the mirror to discover that a pretty good smudge of ink from the magazine has transferred itself to my forehead. That’s fine when I remember to look in the mirror upon rising. A few swipes with a clean wash cloth and the problem is eliminated. It is a bit of a problem, however, when I don’t notice and later catch an ugly smear on my forehead that makes me look like I’ve been down in the coal mines. Perhaps I’ll see my image in the rear view mirror of the car, or catch a glimpse in a store window as I pass. Either way, it makes me wonder how long the smear has been there and how many people I’ve talked to who were excellent at keeping a straight face while looking at my dirty face.

Mainly the problem with reading when I am too tired, however, has to do with comprehension. I find that when I’m fairly tired, I can read the same paragraph over and over without knowing what it says. I’ve even been known to turn the page in the book while I’m nodding off resulting in having to go back a page or so when I resume reading to find some text that is familiar. That works pretty well with much of contemporary fiction, which is less linear and can be read without having comprehended every paragraph. I can get the general gist of the story sometimes even though I don’t remember every word. But there is a fair amount of reading that I enjoy that involves making rational arguments that are dependent upon the reader processing all of the ideas in the book. There are certain books that I’ve learned to read at times and places where I am much less likely to nod off while reading.

As I’ve switched to using a tablet computer for reading more and more, I’ve wondered about the ill effects of using it in bed. I’ve read about the problems with blue light from screens disrupting sleep patterns, and my device has a blue light filter designed to address this problem, so I use it. Frankly, I don’t notice much difference between the screen and reading a regular book. It does work better than traditional magazines. No ink on my face. A couple of the magazines to which I subscribe offer online editions that are the same as the print versions. Other magazines, and among them some of my favorites, however, do not have online versions and reading the print is the best way to go.

Perhaps the best compromise I’ve found is my genuine lazy boy recliner. The sitting position, which when reclined is nearly lying down, means that the book has to be held above my face for reading so it gently lowers to my face as I fall asleep. That is probably preferable to lying on my stomach and my face falling into the book. I haven’t got the technique quite perfect yet. It is clear that I need a few more years of practice to get it just right.

In the meantime if you see me with ink smudges on my face, it’s ok to tell me. I’ll slip into the bathroom and clean them off.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!