By Molly O’Brien

Do you feel guilty when you pick up a juicy romance novel or a page-turning murder mystery? Do you reprimand yourself for not selecting something more ambitious to read? Well, as it turns out, research has shown that curling up with your favorite novel is productive. In fact, it is considered healthy for you. Below are five ways reading fiction can improve your well-being.

 Improves brain function

According to a study conducted by Emory University, reading a novel creates long-lasting changes in the biology of the brain. Areas of the brain involved in receptivity to language and physical sensation/movement undergo heightened connectivity after we read a narrative. This suggests that we are truly able to put ourselves in the place of storybook characters in a way that changes our perception of the world.

Aids sleep

Psychologists report that it is worthwhile to develop a ritual prior to sleep that promotes detachment from a busy day’s activities. Reading fiction before bed allows us to get lost in the world of the narrative, focusing our attention on the present moment. In contrast, reading non-fiction, such as self help books, is likely to stimulate planning and preoccupation with the future. The ease and quality of our sleep are enhanced when our minds are quiet and focused rather than scattered with disparate thoughts.

Cultivates empathy

The Scientific American reports a study that found reading literary fiction increases our capacity to relate to and understand others who may be different from us. It allows us to forge diverse relationships in real life, using insights gained from the fictional world.

Lowers stress

A study conducted by psychologists at the University of Sussex found that reading is a better, faster way to reduce stress than other common methods such as listening to music or taking a walk. For example, only six minutes of reading contributes to lower heart rates and reduced muscle tension.

Inspires creativity

Reading requires consistent concentration, which activates our brains. Reading fiction also helps stimulate our imagination. The combination of these three effects sharpens creative thinking skills and can potentially inspire innovative work.