After a grinding day of important meetings, memos, emails and paperwork, sitting down to read might seem like overkill – when in fact it’s the best decision you’ll make all day.

In the wise words of Confucius: “No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”

By this, he didn’t mean scrolling through tweets and Facebook updates, skimming through a magazine or reading the back of a cereal box.

Here are six science-backed reasons why picking up a book (or your Kindle) will enhance your brain, your health and your career.

  1. Lowers stress

    A well-written story has the power to transport you to another realm, capturing your full attention while outside distractions melt away – and it will lower your cortisol levels in the process.
    A study from the University of Sussex revealed that reading for even six minutes can reduce stress by up to 68%. Found to ease muscle tension and lower the heart rate, reading is even more effective than listening to music (61%) or drinking a cup of hot tea (54%).

  2. Helps you sleep

    According to the National Sleep Foundation, a relaxing reading ritual can help prepare your body for sleep and help distract your mind from the stresses of the day.

    For the ultimate sleep: After you put down your book in the evening, make sure your room is at a cool temperature (18.5°C is optimal) and free of light, noise and technological distractions.

  3. Makes you a better leader

    Harry S Truman once said: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”

    It’s entirely possible to find a role model within the pages of a book, and detailed character descriptions encourage introspection about our own personality and behaviours. If you want to be more like someone you admire, reading what they read will expose you to the people and ideas that have shaped their life the most.

    If you want to be more like someone you admire, reading what they read will expose you to the people and ideas that have shaped their life the most.

    When it comes to better connecting with people, one study found that individuals who read for just 30 minutes a week reported a stronger sense of empathy. The ability to approach a situation with ingenuity and relate to other people is one that ranks in the top qualities of great leaders.

  4. Improves your decision-making skills

    On average, adults make around 35,000 decisions every day – from what we eat, wear, buy to what we say and how we say it.

    By improving memory, concentration and your ability to process information, reading can help you avoid making impulsive and irrational judgements. In analysing and critiquing the plot of your latest novel, you’re unconsciously preparing yourself to deal with situations that demand critical thinking and balanced decision-making.

  5. Makes you smarter

    In the words of Dr Seuss: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” This limerick is backed up by research published out of Northern Illinois University. It found that readers test higher in vocabulary and generalised knowledge than non-readers.

    Tesla Founder Elon Musk didn’t get to where he is today – a CEO and visionary worth around US$20 billion – by being uninformed. This doesn’t mean you have to take on the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica (which Musk allegedly read at just nine years old). Whether you prefer the genre of history, biographies, science or business – you’re sure to pick up something that will come in handy one day.

  6. Improves emotional intelligence

    Reading not only improves your IQ, but your also your EQ.

    “People who read fiction may understand people better than others,” says Keith Oatley, an award-winning novelist and emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto. Oatley explains that books that “help us understand the characters from the inside”, rather than plot-driven novels, are most effective in boosting EQ.

    That means reading books could improve your love life, your family life, and your relationships with friends and work colleagues.

Need inspiration? Here’s a peek at what some of the world’s great leaders are reading.