How writing a journal can help you sleep

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You don't need statistics to know that sleep deprivation is the worst.

But we'll give you some anyway. Sorry.

Nearly half of us are getting just six hours sleep or less per night and four out of five complain of inadequate or disturbed sleep, finds The Sleep Council.

Yet as you've probably been told by everyone from your doctor to your mum, healthy sleep comes with plenty of benefits such as warding off heart disease, preventing diabetes and boosting your immune system.

It might be a basic function humans have been practising since birth, clearly modern adults need help when it comes to getting shut-eye.

Thankfully, a new study suggests a remarkably easy solution to your bleary-eyed morning.

Write for five minutes before bed.

But any old scribbling won't do, as it appears to be the nagging of uncompleted tasks that keeps us awake.

In a a small study of 57 young adults, scientists from Baylor University and Emory University found that writing to-do lists helped people fall asleep an average of nine minutes faster than writing about completed tasks.

While nine minutes might not sound life-changing, it is comparable to the improvement seen in clinical trials for some sleep medications, lead author Michael K Scullin told Timemagazine.

The participants were randomly assigned to write about tasks that they had either completed or jot down a to-do list - and the former group fell asleep in 25 minutes versus 16 minutes for the latter.

What's more, people who wrote longer, more detailed to-do lists fell asleep faster than those who wrote shorter, more vague ones.

The researchers used what they call the 'gold standard' of sleep measurement -polysomnography (which records eye movement) - in a controlled lab environment, and conducted the study on a weeknight to avoid the effects of the weekend on bedtime.

Scullin said in a statement that the researchers expected one of two outcomes.

There are two schools of thought about this.

One is that writing about the future would lead to increased worry about unfinished tasks and delay sleep, while journaling about completed activities should not trigger worry.

The alternative hypothesis is that writing a to-do list will 'offload' those thoughts and reduce worry.

He continued:

We live in a 24/7 culture in which our to-do lists seem to be constantly growing and causing us to worry about unfinished tasks at bedtime.

Most people just cycle through their to-do lists in their heads, and so we wanted to explore whether the act of writing them down could counteract nighttime difficulties with falling asleep.

In general, writing down worries has been found to reduce stress levels, as well as manage anxiety and depression.

Scullin that a larger sample size would be a of value to explore this more, though he says the sample size was appropriate for an experimental, lab-based study.

He said:

Measures of personality, anxiety and depression might moderate the effects of writing on falling asleep, and that could be explored in an investigation with a larger sample.

We recruited healthy young adults, and so we don't know whether our findings would generalize to patients with insomnia, though some writing activities have previously been suggested to benefit such patients.


Here's my list for tonight:

1. Buy journal.

2. Write to-do list.

3. Sleep.

HT Psychology Today

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