Does Internet Dopamine Stop You from #Reading #Books?

a.k. andrew, a writers notebook,readingWhere do you get your nightly dose of dopamine? No, let me put that a different way… What is your preferred visual stimulation of choice before you go to sleep? Watching a movie, the TV, going online and catching up on email, tweeting, texting, Facebook etc… or reading a book?

Come on, let’s be honest. I guarantee at least half of you did not go for the book reading option. So why is that? What’s happened to our bedtime story?

This is from a Post published by Susan Weinschenk Ph.D. on Sep 11, 2012 in Brain Wise which says that “Dopamine makes you addicted to seeking information in an endless loop.”  This is from Susan’s post:

Pleasure vs. seeking 

 You may have heard that dopamine controls the “pleasure” systems of the brain: that dopamine makes you feel enjoyment, pleasure, and therefore motivates you to seek out certain behaviors, such as food, sex, and drugs. Recent research is changing this view. Instead of dopamine causing you to experience pleasure, the latest research shows that dopamine causes seeking behavior. Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search.

Rewards of the Dopamine Loop

So what that’s telling us is that one tweet is never enough. We are going to continuously reward ourselves by searching for more information, more connection however tenuous it might be online. Who wouldn’t want to be rewarded each time we perform any of these tasks? And there is a sense of accomplishment that we have achieved something. What’s not to like?

This next part is from a more recent article published in the Guardian in January 2015, and is from a book by Daniel J. Levitin.

In a famous experiment, my McGill colleagues Peter Milner and James Olds, both neuroscientists, placed a small electrode in the brains of rats, in a small structure of the limbic system called the nucleus accumbens. This structure regulates dopamine production and is the region that “lights up” when gamblers win a bet, drug addicts take cocaine, or people have orgasms – Olds and Milner called it the pleasure centre. A lever in the cage allowed the rats to send a small electrical signal directly to their nucleus accumbens. Do you think they liked it? Boy how they did! They liked it so much that they did nothing else. They forgot all about eating and sleeping. Long after they were hungry, they ignored tasty food if they had a chance to press that little chrome bar; they even ignored the opportunity for sex. The rats just pressed the lever over and over again, until they died of starvation and exhaustion. Does that remind you of anything? A 30-year-old man died in Guangzhou (China) after playing video games continuously for three days. Another man died in Daegu (Korea) after playing video games almost continuously for 50 hours, stopped only by his going into cardiac arrest.

……. But remember, it is the dumb, novelty-seeking portion of the brain driving the limbic system that induces this feeling of pleasure, not the planning, scheduling, higher-level thought centres in the prefrontal cortex. Make no mistake: email-, Facebook- and Twitter-checking constitute a neural addiction.

© Daniel J. Levitin. Extracted from The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, published by Viking

Short attention Span

My concern is that all of this information that we constantly both receive and dispatch, essentially leads not to successful multitasking, but to a short attention span. And that is not something you can have if you want to read a book amongst other things.  What I’ve been in the habit of doing is to start reading and then feel compelled to look up the meaning of a word, or see exactly what part of the world is the author talking about, or when was that in relation to the first moon landing etc etc. Minutiae that I either dont need or could find out later, but have felt the need to immediately find out while I’m reading a novel!!!

Banished from the Bedside

So what I’ve been doing recently is banning all  electronic devices from my bedside table, as I was often ‘just quickly checking my email, twitter, Facebook account, etc, and before you know it an hour or even two had gone by, my eyes were closing and gone was my reading time! So I’ve been focusing on books and felt more relaxed for doing so.

Bright Lights

I’ve also read that the bright light from any kind of display monitor also simulates day time which is obviously not very conducive to sleep. How that works for ebooks I’m not sure, but one does tend to have the screen a little darker at night.

So I’ve just started reading The Gold Finch by Donna Tartt and at 700+ pages, I’m going to definitely need to focus on my reading time. And as a writer, as I mentioned in my last post on writing tips, that is essential.

Ak.K. Andrew, TheWriters Notebook, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

What is your opinion on visual stimulation before you go to bed in particular? And what about the Dopamine Loop-do you find it effects you in the ways described? If so what’s the answer?

Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media. 

Many Thanks!

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  1. I can certainly relate to the online addiction! I usually like to end my evening with a good book. Right now I am reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and I quite like it. Unfortunately, my daughter decided to do her homework late last night, and somehow I ended up testing her on vocabulary (and we were both tired). So no late book reading for me. I try to save my online addiction for an early morning treat. But it is a sort of seeking and not necessarily satisfying as you said.
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  2. Interestingly, my background is in the newspaper industry. What lead me to online publications was the change in the reading habits (habits overall) of the general public. People today are generally stimulated by electronics – computers, smartphones, tablets etc. We tend to receive all information from electronic sources. Therefore, that same “dopamine” impedes us from reading anything of length – books, newspapers and even magazines. You are correct in stating that reading before sleeping at night book reading is a much better choice of stimulation. In the future people will most likely only sleep 3 hours a night.
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  3. Believe me, the internet hasn’t stopped me from reading at least one book a week. And I never go to bed and read on an iPad. Real books and reading is how I get by in life.

    That doesn’t stop me from spending a lot of time online working with my sites, connecting, social media, reading news, learning. But that will never stop me from reading books:-)
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  4. I cannot agree with you more. We always here about “Terminator” type apocalypse where the machines will take over. I do not think it will be a “take over”, I think it will be more of use handing the machines our lives. The internet is creating a generation with little sleep, and a short attention span.
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    • Interesting to hear William, and I havent thought of it in ‘Terminator’ terms! But I think with any new technology , it takes a while for the wrinkles to be ironed out, and for individuals to find the best use of it for them. We’re all different in what we need. Perhaps a generation raised on the Internet would have a different approach, although I suspect it might even be worse instead of better in terms of reading books.
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  5. Well this is one area where I (apparently) completely break the mold. I’m a (non-fiction) author and a blogger and on top of the scientific articles and studies I read as research for my writing, I probably read 30 to 40 blog posts a week. As far as my time away from the Internet I read books. I haven’t turned my TV on in 2 years – which reminds me I should probably check one of these days to see if it even still works. Anyway, I read an average of 4 books a week on top of all my writing so apparently all the online time hasn’t (yet) shortened my attention span. Fascinating topic! 🙂
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    • That’s fantastic Marquita. And I think the examples of the usage you have also goes to show that the way we each use the Internet will effect the ultimate outcome on the effect . Doing research, which I’ve done myself for novels, I think is entirely different than for example flicking through a Twitter stream or scanning the newer headlines. And I’m assuming that if you’re reading 4 books a week probably a least part of your reading may be done before you go to sleep. You don’t mention whether you are online right before bedtime. It’s great to hear about your usage, and illuminates the individuality of the reaction. Thanks so much 🙂
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  6. There’s no doubt having a SmartPhone for a few years now has changed my reading habits as well as many other life habits. About a year ago I stopped leaving it by by bed because I didn’t like it being the last thing I looked at before I slept and the first thing as well. It now charges in the master bath and I have to get up to turn the alarm off in the morning. I also recently went through all of my apps and turned off even more notifications. The whole light from monitors is so true too. My work schedule is so screwy right now, but in the past, I have aimed to shut down by 6 pm or so. I do like the backlit screen of the Kindle for reading at night. As someone who has taught English, I can say attention spans really have been impacted by all of the instant gratification “like it” information that surrounds us. I’ve known the deep pleasure that comes from digging into all kinds of texts, but the siren call of glowing screen continually beckons. Also, I keep putting off reading The Goldfinch simply because it’s so thick! I sound like a student now 😉
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    • Good to know I’m not the only one who feels the call of the light!! I only have texts on as notifications with sound now, though tweets & emails come up on the phone, which is darn handy. But I have to open it to look. Good idea to charge the phone in a different room even for the alarm part. I think the backlit thing must have a different effect on you as well. And interesting to hear as a teacher that you had noticed the short attention span aspect of students. You can’t beat yourself up too badly about the Goldfinch Jeri – you are “reading” Anna Karenina after all (I may have said, but it’s one of my all time fav. books) As always thanks so much for your input.
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  7. While I usually do some book reading just about every evening, I don’t read before I go to bed. There’s a pretty simple reason for that. If I do something passive like reading or watching TV, I get sleepy. Doing something more interactive (as I am doing tonight in commenting on your blog post) keeps me more alert and awake.
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    • Interesting perspective Ken – it seems like you are trying to keep awake. Which is what one might aim for earlier in the evening, but right before I go to sleep I like to have something to wind down with. I find even if I do some of my own writing by hand, my mind gets overstimulated, and starts in on a whole thought process about where the work can go etc. Not such a bad thing I guess. Thank you for the comment:-)
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  8. Hi A.K. I find that any kind of visual stimulation before bedtime keeps me from falling asleep and also having a sound sleep. After 8pm I do not watch tv or do any computer stuff. Instead I read what I consider ‘fluff’ books, you know the ones from Maeve Binchy or Rosamund Pilcher – books that are pure entertainment without having to prove a point. Those kind of books relax me which helps me sleep better. I borrowed an e-reader from the library a while back but can’t say I enjoyed reading on it. Maybe it’s something you have to get used to.
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  9. Hi A.K. great post as usual. I like to close up the computer before I go to bed. Once in bed, that is my sacred personal reading time. I read both paperback and from my kindle. Incidentally, because I don’t want to be distracted by blue light, I bought the older kindle with no light background. I use a book light to read it at night and it’s perfect for the beach as there is no glare from sunlight. Sometimes older is better. 🙂 PS I will soon also begin reading my 700 page book, The Goldfinch.
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  10. How interesting! I like to read for at least half an hour before bedtime! Usually it’s an eBook but sometimes it’s a paper copy. I like to get my imagination going and then head into dreamland 🙂
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  11. I’m an early bird so generally after dinner I fall asleep in front of the TV (TV puts me to sleep). If I do wake up and go to bed then I will either read or write a bit (it – the writing – is usually drivel) I cannot be trusted near the internet after my evening glass of wine so the computer stays closed and the iphone in my purse.
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  12. Sounds like we’re on the same page with the nighttime computer use now then Jan. I can’t imagine after a drink- definitely a tricky combination. I feel happy I didn’t spend my 20’s & 30’s sending embarrassing texts after a few drinks. What a minefield that is. Sleep is so important though, so it’s good to have a peaceful way to ease ourselves into it. Thanks so much for your comment:-)
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  13. Yes, I see you and I raise you, A.K.! I have a strict no-screen policy in my bedroom, and that means no TV, no ipad, no computer, no phone, no ebook, no nothing that isn’t paper. I’ll often work late into the night, but always take a few minutes before going to bed to de-compress with some yogurt and the kitties. It’s the unfortunate downside of our technological age. But I do believe it’s up to the individual to enforce self-discipline, and take a break from screen time – of any type!
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  14. A.K. — I’m glued to the computer most of the day if I’m not out. I need — and want — to read a book for about an hour before bedtime. It helps to bring me down. And then there is the sheer pleasure in reading. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I cannot live without books.”
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  15. I am not consistent with what my visual stimulation before bedtime is – sometimes it is the computer, sometimes it’s television and sometime a book. Reading a book is certainly the most relaxing of the three. I am concerned about how our online lives may be decreasing attention span. I notice it in myself when I have been very busy online. It’s sometimes harder to focus on a book at those points, but find that when I do finally get focused I become more relaxed, less stressed.
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  16. OK, I admit it. The internet is addicting. Especially some off the social media sites. :). But for me, there is nothing quite like having a good old fashioned book in your hand every now and then. I get tired of the glare of the screen and so do my eyes.

  17. I am not someone ‘who always needs to be entertained’, but if you were to describe me as someone ‘who is constantly in search of a stimulus’, then you would have me pegged pretty accurately. Those dopamine studies sound as though they were conceived with me in mind.

    In the pre-Internet days I listened to my stereo at night; now I spend my nights staring into a computer screen. So I suppose I have only myself to blame for the fact that I don’t sleep very well: I at least promise not to whine about it.
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  18. Well, that explains my news surfing at work 😉 I do hate the distraction that social media provides. I’ll sit down to my computer to do one thing and get distracted by Facebook, Twitter or my blog, and then time’s up and I never did do the one thing I wanted to. I actually have to force myself to do the one thing first. Disappointing how hard that is.
    At bedtime, I tend to play a time-limited word puzzle to relax. Sometimes I’ll read on my Kindle. Athough I prefer bound books, my reading lamp still disturbs my husband so the Kindle is my fallback. I agree that all this social media is may be making us prone to short attention spans, and I often wonder how I ever managed to read for hours at a time. But I keep at it. Reading is very important to me. As a writer, reading informs my understanding of writing. As a reader, it opens my mind to other cultures, the trials and triumphs of other people. I worry about people losing that connection, that opportunity to develop sympathy and empathy for others through reading because they are overwhelmed by the minutiae of social media. Now, excuse me while I tweet your post 🙂
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    • Sounds like we’re on the same page here Marie. I too have enjoyed doing puzzles before going to sleep – for no other reason than it felt wasteful to do them any other time. But really I think the biggest issue you touched on was what reading does for us as both writers and readers. I completely agree on both fronts, and it is disturbing to think that aspect of peoples lives may have been tuned out , or at least turned down. Thanks so much for your insightful comment. Always appreciated:-)
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  19. I always read before I go to bed. It relaxes me. The only time I don’t is if I happen to be watching TV and doze off. 😉

  20. Because one of the classes I am in right now is very book heavy, I find I have to read so much more than normal all day long. This seems crazy when I think about all the reading I do already…

    Anyway, I picked up a basic kindle earlier this month to lessen the eyestrain I feel. It doesn’t have the backlit screen and the screen functions much like an actual book. It has done wonders already. I just wish I could find more of my school books to go on it instead of having to lug them around.
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    • It’s a whole different kettle of fish when you’re reading a ton of stuff for a course. There’s only so much reading a person can do. An old kindle sounds like a good idea though, and I’m surprised that the course would be recommending so much that isn’t available online, but then each course is different. Thanks for the comment Jon.
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  21. The internet is addicting and even though I have no electronic devises in the bedroom I usually check email before heading up. By the time I hit the sack I am usually pooped so anything but a quick scan of email is about all I want to do.
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  22. You are right I too go to check online stuff before sleeping. At times my daughter demands bed time story so I read for her but for myself I am trying to read
    The girls by Lori Lansens but the problem is.. after few minutes my daughter will get hold of it ad try to make a story so from almost a month this is happening everyday.

  23. I love reading. I break up my day at the computer by sneaking in a few chapters here and there. I just read The Goldfinch, which was recommended by my husband’s daughters, so it isn’t just older people like me who actually read books! I never take digital gadgets to bed although I use them a lot all day.
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  24. Boy oh boy what a deep subject! I must confess that I used to read before bed. Now I check my smart phone. I have so many books waiting for me to read on my Kindle. Now that you have me thinking about this, I may have to rethink this bed time habit and replace the smart phone check with a chapter from a Kindle book.
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  25. I absolutely don’t do e-mail or social media before going to bed. All that just gets my brain pumping, and so I want to try and relax before I hit the hay. For me, that generally means finding a relaxing program on TV so that I can just tune out and eventually clear my mind. If all else fails, having the cat purr in my ear sure helps me relax!
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