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To wake, to wake, perchance to read: sleep duration and reading for pleasure.

To investigate the relationship between sleep duration and pleasure reading, 223 college students self-reported their habitual sleep duration and completed a measure of reading for pleasure. Regression results indicated that individuals who reported shorter sleep duration were significantly more likely to report increased reading for pleasure. The results and directions for future research are discussed.


Why does one read for pleasure? The simple answer perhaps would be that it brings pleasure (Kringelbach, Vuust, & Geake, 2008). However, the motivations are likely more complex. In one study involving medical students, a group typically thought to have heavy educational reading requirements, reasons for pleasure reading included gaining personal inspiration, increasing awareness outside of personal experience, introspection, and eliciting emotional reactions (Hodgson & Thomson, 2000). A sample of older adults named reading as an activity in which they oft participated during times of sleeplessness (Libman, Creti, Amsel, Brender, and Fichten, 1997). While Libman et al's results were specific to an older sample it may be true that other segments of the population read during sleeplessness as well. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to examine the relationship between reading for pleasure and sleep duration in a college student population.

Reading for Pleasure

Studies have indicated that pleasure reading among college students has declined over the past three decades (Hendel & Harrold, 2004). Although numerous influences have likely contributed to this decline, the specific reasons have remained unclear. However, it has become clear that pleasure reading positively correlated with reading skill (Datta & MacDonald-Ross, 2002). Pleasure reading has also been linked with academic achievement (Shin, 2004). The relationship between pleasure reading and academic achievement may be partly explained by reading skill, but it may also be partly explained through individual differences variables. Pleasure reading has been found across several studies to relate to the broad-band openness to experience domain of the "Big-Five" personality factors (Davidson, Beck, & Silver, 1999; Kraaykamp & van Eijck, 2005), which has also predicted academic achievement (Davidson et al.). Pleasure reading was also associated with a tendency to experience psychological absorption and better tolerate complex stimuli (Miall & Kuiken, 1995), as well as emotional stability (Schutte & Malouff, 2004).

As pleasure reading might be considered a leisure activity, it seems reasonable that studies have associated pleasure reading with other leisure activities as well. For instance, time engaged in pleasure reading has been negatively associated with television viewing time (Shin, 2004). It has also been associated with seemingly less likely activities such as night-sky watching (Kelly & Daughtry, 2006).

Sleep duration

Most adults sleep between 6 and 9 hours out of every 24 (National Sleep Foundation, 2008). Over the course of time, researchers' understanding of characteristics of individuals who sleep more (long sleepers) or less (short sleepers) has changed. Early reports indicated that short sleepers were more psychologically healthy, whereas longer sleepers were described as being more psychologically unhealthy (Hartmann, 1973; Hartmann, Baekeland, Zwilling, & Hoy, 1971).

However, as subsequent research corrected methodological flaws, a different profile of long and short sleepers emerged. More recent studies have found sleep duration was negatively related to (i.e., short-sleepers scored higher on), neuroticism (Kumar & Vaidya, 1982), hostility (Grano, Vahtera, Virtanen, Keltikangas-Jarvinen, & Kivimaki, 2008), worry (Kelly, 2002), hallucinatory experiences (Soper, Kelly, & Von Bergen, 1997), eating disorder symptoms (Hicks & Rozette, 1986), and even susceptibility to the common cold (Cohen, Doyle, Alper, Janicki-Deverts, & Turner, 2009). Sleep duration was has been positively related to creativity (Hicks, Guista, Schretlen, & Pellegrini, 1980), life satisfaction (Kelly, 2004), and deliberation (Gray & Watson, 2002). There have been mixed results regarding the relationship between sleep duration and academic performance. Kelly, Kelly, and Clanton (2001) found a significant relationship, with short sleepers performing worse, while Gray and Watson (2002) found a negative, though non-significant, relationship between sleep duration and performance.

The Current Study

It has been postulated that short-sleepers have suboptimal levels of cortical arousal (Skinner, 1983; Kelly, 2002; Soper et al., 1997). This has been partly substantiated by findings that short sleepers exhibited poorer performance on tasks related to cortical arousability, such as lower levels of sensory response and perceptual-motor ability (Coursey, Buchsbaum, & Frankel, 1975). If the supoptimal arousal hypothesis is correct, short-sleepers' brains might attempt to compensate by seeking increased stimulation during wakefulness. It was predicted, therefore, that shorter habitual sleep duration would significantly correlate with higher scores on a measure of pleasure reading.


Participants and Procedure

After obtaining informed consent, 223 participants (177 females) enrolled in undergraduate psychology courses at a small university completed the instruments described below. The average age of participants was 27.6 years (SD = 9.1; mdn = 24), ranging from 18-50. There was no significant difference between the sexes for age, t (219) = .01, ns.


Reading for Pleasure. Reading for pleasure was measured using the six-item Reading for Pleasure Scale (RPS), a factor of Davidson et al.'s (1999) Survey of Academic Orientations. The RPS measures a student's tendency to read often from a diversity of sources; reading is not confined to course-work. Participants responded to items using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Responses were summed to produce a total RPS score. Higher scores indicated more reading for pleasure. Davidson et al. (1999) reported adequate construct validity, test-retest reliability (.76, four months), and internal consistency (alpha = .85 - .90). A sample item is "Reading is one of my favorite pastimes."

Sleep duration. Sleep duration estimates were self-reported as a continuous variable using the method of Kumar & Vaidya (1984), whereby participants were asked to write the number of hours and minutes they habitually sleep in a 24-hour period. Validity of this measure has been demonstrated through a high (.82) correlation with another self-report measure of sleep duration (Kelly, 2009). Kelly also reported the single-item sleep duration measure had a very low correlation (-.03) with social desirability. To examine the test-retest reliability of the sleep duration measure used in this study, it was administered twice to a separate sample of 120 (97 female) university students with an average age of 24.5 (SD = 6.8). The interval between administrations was one month. The test-retest correlation was .80, indicating satisfactory temporal stability.


Descriptive statistics of the RPS in this sample were as follows: M = 19.1, SD = 5.6, range = 6-30, alpha = .85. The average sleep duration in this sample was 7.1 hours (SD = 1.3), ranging from 4-12 hours. An alpha level of p < .05 (two-tailed) was used for all significance tests. Participant age significantly correlated with RPS scores, r = .33,p < .001, but not sleep duration, r = -.08, ns. A significant sex difference was found for RPS scores, t (220) = 2.3, p < .05. Females (M = 19.5) scored higher than males (M = 17.4). However, there was no significant sex difference for sleep duration, t (220) = .78, ns.

For a mediation effect involving sex or age to occur in the relationship between sleep duration and pleasure reading, the mediating variable (sex or age) would have to significantly correlate with both sleep duration and RPS scores (Baron & Kenny, 1986). Since this was not evidenced in the current sample, data was further analyzed regardless of sex and age. A simple regression was calculated using sleep duration as the predictor and RPS scores as the criterion. The result was significant, F (1,221) = 10.4, p < .001, beta = -.21, with sleep duration accounting for 5% of the variance in RPS scores.


The hypothesis of this study was supported; shorter sleep duration was significantly related to higher reports of pleasure reading. These results are consistent with the idea that pleasure reading may serve to increase the cortical arousal of short-sleepers as has been proposed by previous researchers (Skinner, 1983; Kelly, 2002; Soper et al., 1997). These findings are also consistent with previous research that indicated a nomological network (see Cronbach & Meehl, 1955) that included shared variance among sleep duration, academic performance, and pleasure reading (Beck & Davidson, 2001; Kelly et al., 2001).

It should be noted that the average sleep duration found in this sample was 7.1 hours per night. This average is almost exactly the average for sleep duration found by Gray and Watson (2002) using sleep diaries. This may provide some evidence that sleep duration measures are the same for college students across these methodologies.

It is interesting that sleep duration correlated with pleasure reading in this study, but not with openness to experience in Gray and Watson's (2002) study. Openness was the strongest personality predictor of pleasure reading found by Davidson et al. (1999). This inconsistency in previous findings may be explainable through the suboptimal cortical arousal hypothesis. Research thus far indicates that short-sleepers may attempt to cognitively stimulate themselves, consciously or unconsciously, though various means such as pleasure reading, hallucinatory experiences (Soper et al., 1997), and worry (Kelly, 2002). Although openness to experience might provide a foundation for short-sleepers to explore their environment and enhance cortical stimulation, specific behaviors may be needed to actually achieve the cognitive stimulation and subsequently evidence an observed correlation with sleep duration. Future research would be needed to test this possibility.

Despite the significance of the findings in this study, there are numerous limitations which should be considered. First, the study was carried-out with college student participants. The effects of this limitation may have been partly decreased due to the older than usual average age of the student sample. Nevertheless, the participants were still college students: both traditional and non-traditional. Second, the sample consisted primarily of females. Some gender differences were found for pleasure reading. Although these differences did not appear to meet enough criteria to warrant additional analyses, these differences still might have affected the outcome of the study. Third, the use of only two brief self-report scales should be noted as an additional limitation. Future research should attempt to replicate these findings using additional measures, especially objective measures of sleep-length, and more heterogeneous samples.

It might be useful for future researchers to examine more closely the underlying hypothesis that short-sleepers have suboptimal cortical arousal. If this could be done, it could shed light on whether or not some correlates of short sleep duration such as worry and pleasure reading are the brain's attempt to self-stimulate, or if these variables instead serve to decrease sleep duration though some other mechanism.

Author Note

Address correspondence to William Kelly; Department of Social Sciences; 6001 University Blvd; Moon Township, PA 15108-1189;


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Author:Kelly, William E.
Publication:Reading Improvement
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2009
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