If you’re an avid reader like me, you probably inhale books of all shapes, sizes, and forms.
This likely includes digital eBooks on tablets, eReaders, or even your phone.
But did you know that the benefits of reading differ depending on what medium you’re using?
Below are 9 scientifically proven benefits of reading printed books.
After checking them out, you may be inclined to adjust your reading habits!
What are the scientifically sound benefits of reading a book?
People have been reading and writing for thousands of years, but it’s only recently that they’ve been reading on digital screens rather than texts on clay, papyrus, parchment, or paper.
Numerous scientists have been examining the effects that digital reading has on us—both mentally and physically—and their findings are quite interesting.
Here are some of the key benefits of reading a printed book rather than a digital one:
1. Lessened eye strain.
If you’re a devoted bibliophile, consider reading physical books more often than digital copies. This is because reading printed books is much easier on the eyes than staring at screens.
For one, printed text on paper is high-contrast and has a matte background. This means you don’t have the glare from a screen reflecting back at you, frying your retinas.
Additionally, the typefaces that are traditionally used for printed materials have been carefully constructed for long-form reading.
They’re usually serif fonts, which have been designed for structural clarity. The characters ensure letter differentiation, so there’s less visual confusion and greater fluidity when it comes to identifying different words per line.
In contrast, most web and digital fonts are created for brief clarity on screens: not to be stared at for hours of immersive reading.
It literally takes more ocular and mental effort to discern and differentiate words on a screen than on a printed page.
People who read primarily on digital screens have been shown to experience significantly more headaches, blurred vision, double vision, and eye dryness than those who primarily read physical, printed materials.
Additionally, those who read digital books seem to develop myopia and other vision problems earlier than avid readers who prefer printed copies.
2. Increased memory and plot retention.
We develop stronger memories about what we’ve read when we absorb information from printed materials. It appears that the physical nature of printed books activates different areas of our brains that govern memory.
For example, you’re more likely to remember an area on a specific page where you read a memorable line, and can flip back to it easily. In contrast, you’re less likely to remember it on a digital reader where you click a button or swipe to show one page at a time.
Furthermore, it’s been suggested that students who study using digital materials get consistently lower test scores than those who use printed materials!
Recent studies indicate that people who read printed texts absorb—and retain—more information than those who read eBooks. They seem to also comprehend more of what they’ve read than people who scan through digital texts instead.
Although the reasons why comprehension and retention are still unclear, the fact that results like these are consistent worldwide is certainly a case for regularly curling up with printed books versus digital ones.
3. Improved information processing and retention.
A study from Sweden indicated that in a workplace setting, both students and employees who read information—including directions—on printouts understood and remembered details more clearly than those who read the same information on digital screens.
According to the study, information read on a screen:
“…exerts detrimental effects on human information processing, and that some of those effects may be attributed to differences in the navigational properties of the two media.”
Quite simply, the way our eyes move across a page versus around a screen seems to be linked to memory.
Studies suggest that eye movement plays a vital role in memory retrieval, so it’s no surprise that the eye movements used in screen scrolling aren’t as effective for creating memories.
If you’re immersed in nonfiction and want to remember details, a printed version will likely be far more beneficial to you.
4. Heightened focus.
People who read eBooks on tablets and such often end up multitasking as a result.
In a recent study, people who read digital materials were far more distracted in their reading immersion than those who read physical books. Some were distracted by pop-ups while others caved in to the temptation to switch apps to check email, scroll social media, etc.
In contrast, reading a printed book encourages (or even requires) complete immersive focus.
You may reach out to grab your coffee cup or water bottle on occasion, but for the most part, your attention is wholly focused on scanning your eyes over the paper and hallucinating vividly.
Being able to immerse and hyperfocus like this can be immensely beneficial in other aspects of your life.
Although some workplaces seem to think that multitasking is an admirable trait, being able to focus completely on the task at hand often yields better results.
5. Improved vocabulary development.
Research suggests that the combined sensory input associated with paper-based reading is linked with long-term memory, which includes vocabulary development in addition to comprehension and plot retention.
How this affects vocabulary is that the words being read and understood in context are “banked” rather than quickly forgotten.
Later, people can remember how and where they read those words in the past and can draw them forth from their memory banks to use as needed.
As a result, people who read printed materials are more likely to use a broader spectrum of words in proper context. In fact, teenagers who read daily have been shown to have a 26% more expansive vocabulary than their peers.
6. Greater empathy and overall emotional response.
Did you know that you feel more emotion when you read words on paper than if your eyes skim them on a screen?
Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, says that printed books:
“…encourage the development of deep reading processes”.
These include critical analysis, empathy, and overall immersion.
We’ve all become so accustomed to skimming and scrolling for information that many people are now incapable of deep, immersive reading.
Instead, we prefer to glean info via easily digestible snippets, and in our zeal to move on to the next topic we quickly lose patience.
This can also translate to interpersonal skills: if we don’t have the patience to immerse ourselves in a printed story, we’re unlikely to have the same patience to sit and talk to another person, nor empathize with what they’re saying.
We just want them to skip to the most important bit, so we can get on with things that we’re more interested in doing.
7. Lessened chance of Alzheimer’s and Dementia due to improved neural function.
Reading a printed book requires several senses to work in concert.
You have to hold or support the book in your hands, thus utilizing muscles that give it stability and balance.
You’ll also use your hands to turn pages as you read and can confirm that the page has been turned because you hear the “whoosh” as it moves.
It’s likely that you also smell that glorious warmth from the printed sheets as you flip through them, and then your eyes travel all over these pages so you can absorb the tale in front of you.
These sensory functions working in tandem help to both improve existing neural pathways and create new ones, thus staving off the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
8. Stress relief.
Recent studies demonstrate that reading a printed book for just half an hour alleviates the same amount of stress as doing a half-hour session of yoga.
Considering that around 75% of people worldwide live in a constant state of heightened stress, curling up with a book for just 20-30 minutes a day could help alleviate our distress quite significantly.
Of course, this also depends on the subject matter that you’re reading. If you’re already feeling stressed and overwrought, delving into Jared Diamond’s work isn’t likely to calm you down further.
Whether you prefer fiction or nonfiction titles, aim for books that engage you without raising your heart rate or making you distraught. Those can wait until your stress levels decrease a bit.
9. Better and more restful sleep.
Countless people choose to read for a while to wind down for bed, but it’s only been in the past 20-odd years that people have been opting for eBooks rather than printed copies.
While research illustrates that reading before bed can relax people, paper books are far better for this purpose than digital readers.
Using a tablet or eReader for your books is handy because you can load it up with hundreds of titles, but reading eBooks before bed can actually hinder sleep rather than encourage it.
This is because the blue light emitted from screens inhibits melatonin production, which is the sleep-regulating hormone. As you may have guessed, this means it’s more difficult to both fall asleep and stay asleep once you get there.
Since real, solid books are printed on paper (usually cream-colored or beige rather than bright white), they don’t emit any kind of light at all.
Focusing on the words printed on these paper pages can be immensely relaxing, helping to alleviate stress and ease you into the land of Nod.
If you’re using an eReader rather than a paper book because you don’t want a bedside lamp on, you can try a neck light similar to this one.
Although these are often used by knitters, they’re also great for late-night reading—especially if you’d like to keep turning pages while your partner slumbers.
If you’re limited to an eReader because of lack of access to printed materials, switch it to “night mode” as soon as the sun sets so it emits a warm yellow hue instead of a blue one, and to lessen eye strain choose a serif font that’s a size larger than you’d normally use.
As you can see, the science points to one likely conclusion: there are numerous benefits to reading printed books over digital ones.
If there’s a local library near you, visit it regularly to see what’s available to read, or have them order copies from other branches for you!
Alternatively, thrift stores and online bookshops offer used books at very reasonable prices.
Reading is one of life’s great pleasures, and some printed books are often works of art unto themselves, with exquisite covers and beautiful internal illustrations.
Do yourself (and your brain) a massive service and make reading part of your daily schedule for better overall health and well-being.