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How Writing Before Bed Helps You Sleep Better

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New study shows keeping a diary helps improve your sleep.

Nearly all of us suffer sleep problems from time to time. Whether its stress at work, problems at home, financial difficulties or family worries – those countless hours lying awake are a familiar situation for most of us. Now in the digital age faced with a constant barrage of messages, notifications and interruptions our precious sleep is under ever more threat.
Well now a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests a surprisingly simple solution found to be remarkably effective – writing in a journal before bed.

Keeping a diary has been recommended for some time as a way to both improve memory and make us happier – but now following collaboration between Baylor University and Emory University in the United States, researchers believe it can help you get to sleep more quickly.

Interestingly they found that writing a to do list was even more effective than writing in a diary – and helped participants fall asleep up to 10 minutes faster.

Writing before bed is little thing people can do in the evening to fall asleep faster

The principal author of the study Michael Scullin a psychological scientist and sleep researcher at Baylor, says “This seems to be a quick little thing people can do in the evening to fall asleep faster.”

In the study which involved 57 adults the researchers found that writing to-do lists for the next day helped the participants fall asleep the fastest – at an average of nine minutes faster—within 16 minutes versus 25 for participants who wrote about completed tasks.

Why writing helps us sleep

Psychologists believe that writing enables us to offload some of the many thoughts we have circulating in our minds – and to decrease rumination and worry. Throughout the day, we accumulate many different thoughts and concerns – many of which cycle through our minds continuously.

By writing down some of these thoughts or concerns we are able to reduce the amount of time we spent thinking or worrying about each. When we decrease this we reduce the barriers to our sleep.

Why a to-do list is more helpful than a diary

Our minds tend to be more occupied with tasks that are uncompleted as opposed to what we have achieved that day. This can be demonstrated when we test people’s recollection of events or tasks that have not been completed versus those that have been; people consistently remember the things that haven’t been completed a lot better. It seems that pending tasks rest at what we call a heightened level of cognitive activation. With our busy day to day lives and pressures at work, unfinished tasks pile up and create this interference in our minds that becomes difficult to clear.

To-do lists could also improve interrupted sleep

While the significance of to-do lists helping to improve interrupted sleep was lower – it appears this also can be improved. The number of times that people woke up in the middle of the night was reduced and trending toward significance – so it appears a to-do list would also help some people sleep better and a bit longer.

Still not convinced? Read about 7 health benefits of keeping a diary

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