The calmer hours before bed are a great time for self-reflection and introspection. It’s when I can suspend life’s relentless reel by ignoring the world without feeling flaky or lazy. The clearer mind that ensues puts me in a pen-to-paper kind of mood. In fact, my creative juices flow actively in the wee hours.
What about you? Are you one of the many people whose biological rhythm harmonizes better with the night? If so, keeping some form of a journal before going to sleep can be uniquely effective, even yielding incredible benefits.
Consider the following six benefits of journaling before bed. Their effects, which transcend both mental and physical wellness, may be subtle. But they connect on a much deeper level than sleeping pills.
1. More Subject Matter To Write About at Night
It’s easier to answer the question, “What should I journal about?” at night. Why? For one, we’ve just experienced a new set of events throughout the day. Our fresh recollection of these events provides more material to work with in the form of details, opinions, and perspectives.
For example, I find that as I’m writing about a very recent memory, I’m able to record it accurately from numerous angles. My stream of consciousness flows unhindered.
A quick tip. Be careful about writing emotionally charged stuff before bed. This could induce cognitive activation and end up being a double-edged sword, preventing you from actually falling asleep.
Another reason is that it’s easier to come up with a list of tasks for the future. When we finally get to relax from all the hectic stimuli, the things we thought of doing but had to force onto the back-burner come to mind again.
If you struggle with journaling because of not knowing what to write, try doing it at the day’s end. That extra cubit of life you’ve just gained, along with a chiller mood, may very well provide the impetus to keep the habit going.
2. Helps You Wind Down By Redirecting the Mind
I’ve been dealing with sleep issues my whole life. The dreadful feedback loop would begin as soon as my dad said, “Time for bed!” – that ominous siren of childhood. On the nights when I wasn’t worried about the bogeyman, I’d be worrying about sleep itself. Whereas everyone else had long drifted off into a peaceful slumber, there I was tossing and turning with a racing mind.
How do we decrease cognitive arousal before bedtime in order to shut down? By tuning out those pesky stressors. How do we tune out those pesky stressors? By REDIRECTING, rather than suppressing, our thoughts. Suppression does NOT work. Journaling before bed, however, does!
It’s been well-established that journaling can reduce stress and anxiety. The key is to lure your thoughts in a productive direction. This means that, whether you’re recording positive experiences, traumatic experiences, or potential experiences, you should analyze them with a view to self-improvement.
Do this for a few minutes before hitting the sack – forget about the language arts and grammar – and you’ll feel your cortisol levels dipping.
3. The Right Kind of To-Do List Puts You To Sleep Faster
Most of us may lack the superpower of being able to fall asleep as soon as our head hits the pillow. But brainstorming a to-do list can reduce sleep onset latency by a whopping 37%. In other words, it’s just about as effective a sleep aid as pills (sadly, it isn’t as potent for sufferers of sleep disorders).
That stunning statistic comes from a 2018 study by Michael Scullin, Ph.D. of Baylor University. In it, he directed a bunch of college students to write out a to-do list of future tasks. According to the researchers, this practice worked because it was enough to give the subjects peace of mind.
Here are the pointers you’ll need to leverage this study for yourself:
- Analog (pen-to-paper) only
- No need for lengthy expressive writing
- A to-do list of UNFINISHED tasks (the study focused on a list for tomorrow)
- Only a few minutes are needed
Who would’ve thought that doing a brain dump could induce sleep time? Then again, it isn’t surprising. Every time I empty my brain’s cache in the form of a long list of tasks, I feel a weight immediately lifted off. And doing this shortly before I doze off feels just like a snuggly security blanket.
4. Gives You a Break From Your Devices
The National Sleep Foundation says that over 95% of us use electronics within an hour of bedtime. And, frankly, I don’t think this is a habit either Casey and I could curb. Ironically, she uses her iPad to listen to ASMR (that stuff doesn’t work for me).
Hypocritically, I firmly believe that a brief dopamine detox will improve sleep efficiency at the end of the day. Study after study also confirms the blue light emitted from screens can adversely affect our sleep patterns.
In theory, even 5 to 15 minutes of analog journaling before bed cleanses our brain of hormonal stimulants. My current hurdle is with the “analog” – I’ve been digitally bullet journaling ever since I got the Notion app. Perhaps I will conduct an experiment by reverting to pen-and-paper writing for 30 days and compare the difference it makes in sleep quality.
5. End the Day With a Sense of Gratitude
With all the negativity surrounding us, it’s vital to concentrate on – and to savor – as many positive events in our life as possible. More and more people keep a dedicated gratitude journal, writing a brief list of appreciative thoughts in it every day.
If we make this a daily writing habit before bed, the chances of us falling asleep in a positive mood are much higher. Over time, this will assuredly strengthen our physical health, such as by boosting immune function; and even stabilize our mental health.
How can you effectively write about the things you’re thankful for? Here are some great tips:
- Focus on all the good things you have in your life, rather than what you don’t have
- Be specific in describing their advantages to you personally
- Use a variety of gratitude prompts
- Try to see the silver lining in stressful experiences
The hardest time to implement this habit is when we’re having a bad day – or a bad night. But this isn’t the time to sulk. Exercise willpower and take out that notebook and pen. Start writing about your appreciation, even if your emotions are disconnected from your thoughts. Push yourself to rein in the negativity by expressing the positive.
6. Start the Next Day in a Good Mood
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of Joy from Fear, believes that the most important factor to waking up happy is falling asleep happy. Now that’s an underrated principle! After all, an object in motion tends to stay in motion, right?
As explained in the second and fifth points, gratitude journaling before lights out can generate enough momentum for a positive mindset. I feel it takes less energy to recalibrate my thoughts at bedtime. And once I wake up, despite the morning rush and my grogginess, I’m still at peace due to this tune-up from the night before.
Really, any form of journaling can lift our spirits in preparation for bed. Just consider the naked practicality of it. Journal writing takes away the opportunity to view negative newsreels, respond to work-related messages, or engage in addictive social media posts that may all contribute to restlessness.
Brains Learn Better at Night – www.adelaide.edu.au
The Effects of Bedtime Writing on Difficulty Falling Asleep: A Polysomnographic Study Comparing To-Do Lists and Completed Activity Lists – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Technology in the Bedroom – sleepfoundation.org
8 Ways to Wake Up Happier – psychologytoday.com