The Connection Between Writing and Sleep

People who regularly have trouble falling asleep at night might try just about anything to cure their insomnia, but a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that writing in a journal for five minutes before bed might help one fall asleep faster. Interestingly enough, this journaling seems to be the most effective if the writer writes down a list of things they plan to do the next day instead of things they did that day.

In the study, 57 young adults were told to write a to-do list of things they needed to do the following day and fell asleep an average of nine minutes sooner than they normally do at night.

There have been many studies in the past that have shown that writing in a journal can help relieve a person’s anxiety, and it makes sense that this writing can help a person sleep. When people are awake, there are countless things going through their heads that might increase their anxiety, and the act of physically writing those things down on paper seems to offload it from their minds a bit. It decreases what researchers call “cognitive arousal,” the sense of anxiety that a person feels when they have something important on their mind. It similar to the way we feel better when we can talk to someone about something that is bothering us. A page in a journal seems to become a surrogate of that someone we talk to when we want to get something off of our chest.

Why Write a To-Do List?

The reason why writing a to-do list seems to help people fall asleep faster at night is because people are writing down tasks that are left unfinished. These tasks always weigh heavily on a person’s mind, so committing them to paper and decreasing cognitive arousal is far more useful than simply writing about things that have already happened and things that no longer need to be done. Writing doesn’t change the fact that the tasks themselves are left unfinished, but it might help take someone’s mind off of them just long enough to get a good night’s sleep. Of course, waking up in the morning and having a clear plan for the day doesn’t hurt either.