This is an essay by Brandon Monk.
“Habit makes everything look bland; it is sleep-inducing. Jumping to a different perspective is a way of waking oneself up again.” Bakewell, Sarah. How to Live, Or, a Life of Montaigne : in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. New York: Other, 2010. Loc 3254
We’re all tired. We spend the day in meetings, on email, and on phone calls. They collectively generate fatigue faster than a wind turbine in Abilene, Texas generates electricity. We need tactics to defeat fatigue as it fights against our mind and tries to prevent us from reading. Here are three suggestions:
Tip 1: Ask questions as you read.
Carry on a conversation with your book. When a new character is introduced, ask, who are they? What’s the book about as a whole? What message is the author writing to convey? What are the main ideas or arguments? Is the book true? What’s the book’s importance? These questions apply to everything you read. Reading is a conversation between you and the book. You probably don’t typically fall asleep mid-conversation unless you are narcoleptic. Approach the book in conversation instead of trying to upload it to your mind.
Practice: Pick a book and reread 10 pages. Read as slowly as you can tolerate. Take two minutes and think about the questions the book raises.
Tip 2: Read with a pencil in your hand.
Marking a book creates dialogue between yourself and the author. If you can imagine a mark, you can use it. There are no hard and fast rules. Highlight, make a vertical line at the margin to mark a block of text, make a star or asterisk (use this on the books top ten statements), number sequential points in the margin, write the number of other pages where the author makes the same point (cf – page # where same idea is discussed to mean compare to or refer to), circle key words or phrases, write in the margin or in any blank space you can find to record your own thoughts or otherwise take notes, and take notes in the front or end of the book after a complete reading to take ownership of your reading (simple as an outline or as complicated as your argument against the author’s position) (Adler and Van Doren loc 859).
Make the notes work for you. Develop your own system. Apply active reading and you won’t fall asleep. If you do, you risk jabbing a pencil in your eye.
Practice: Find a pencil on amazon.com, at a local store, or in a utility drawer. Ensure it makes a fine line. You have selected your reading pencil. Keep it with your books and with you whenever you read any way other than superficially. Pick a book and read 10 pages. Write in the margin any question raised while reading and try to underline any line that interests or impacts you. For now, don’t worry about why the portion you underline sticks out to you.
Tip 3: Tackle books beyond you.
To stay awake while you read you need encouragement. Challenge is a form of encouragement if you can avoid frustration. The more you tackle books beyond your current reading ability the more you learn about life. The ultimate goal is pleasure, but books please by helping you realize something new. Challenge yourself and concentrate
When I suggest a challenge I don’t mean immediately jump into the most difficult book you can imagine. Look at reading like a ladder. Climb the first rung before you progress to the top. There is no shame in reading something you understand most of with a little effort.
Practice: Is the book you’re reading challenging you? What would be a step up in difficulty, one rung up the ladder?
Do you have any tips for avoiding sleep while you read?
Bonus Advice: I’ve been surprised by how popular this archived post continues to be so I want to add a few more things to tips, some of which have been suggested in the comments as well.
(1) Read standing up. You could create a makeshift standing desk. Google “Standing Desk.”
(2) Read out loud. Find a place where you can verbalize the text without embarrassment. Buy a cheap recording device or use your phone to record yourself and then you can listen to the audio before bed.
(3) Read on a treadmill or stationary bike. Read while you exercise.
(4) Read for short bursts and sprint (run outside or in place for a short time) in between.
(5) Read with others. Find a study partner and take turns reading back and forth to one another. Make a pact to poke the partner if they doze off.
See these two posts about reading with a partner or loved one: Reading and Writing in Relationships: How Partners Encourage Learning and Enjoyment ; How Reading Can Improve Your Love Life; Why Reading Should be a Shared Activity.
(6) If you try all these and fail I recommend you seek the help of a trained medical professional. You may have a treatable medical condition.
Photo by Paul Jarvis.