Journaling for better sleep

As part of our Biohacking Masterclass Series, we will explore a number of different techniques and practices to improve your daily performance. This series will range from obvious subjects like exercise and nutrition to fringe subjects like breathing techniques and sleep hygiene. Consult your physician before implementing any of these topics; we are here to educate. We are not your physician. Note: This post may contain affiliate links to the products we use. 

We’ve written extensively about our favorite ‘hacks’ for sleep. Examples of some of our tried and true methods include using red LED lights to change the hue of light you see in the hours leading up to bed; the temperature of your bedroom and its effect on melatonin release; and the role of bright light in the morning to set your body’s temporal clock or circadian rhythm

With the implementation of each of these scientifically proven techniques, you are stepping your sleep game up to a professional level. However, you may still run into one issue that prevents many people from restful sleep: an overactive mind set on solving problems. 

Traditionally, it seems that the most frequently prescribed tools for dealing with an overactive mind are meditation and nighttime journaling, albeit in a nonspecific or retrospective manner. Writing about the day’s events leading up to sleep time is a seemingly inconspicuous way of dealing with a restless mind. In reality, recent research has shown that retrospective thinking does little to solve overactive thoughts, as the thinking frequently settles on the problems we failed to solve that day. 

Instead, investigators have shown that using a sleep journal in a proactive way in the hours leading up to bedtime can promote increased sleep quality and decreased sleep latency, or the time to fall asleep. 

If you find yourself awake at night staring at the ceiling thinking about the problems you still have to solve, it’s time to invest in a journal and pen. 

How to start a sleep journal: 

According to a study comparing retrospective journaling to forward-thinking journaling, the latter led to statistically significant differences in time to fall asleep. Importantly, there were a few considerations to keep in mind for those picking up a pen. 

Most importantly, document every to-do item or unsolved problem that crosses your mind, no matter how insignificant it may appear at first. 

The quantity of writing is important in this journal. Those who spent a few extra minutes writing down complete thoughts and detailed breakdowns of the problems at hand had even less sleep latency. Specifically, the more items listed on the to-do page, the few minutes were spent awake. 

If you’re writing them down, ensure the thoughts are future-oriented and not describing completed tasks. 

Finally, environment optimization is a practice to implement while establishing this nighttime habit. Decrease the friction you would otherwise have to overcome by keeping your journal near your bed. If you limit any aspect of non-sleep activity in your bedroom, keep your journal in a place that you frequent before bed, and a good general recommendation is to keep a specific pen with your specific journal. The latter practice will prevent late-night searches for a pen that would otherwise prevent an optimal sleep mindset. 


References

  1. Scullin MK, Krueger ML, Ballard HK, Pruett N, Bliwise DL. The effects of bedtime writing on difficulty falling asleep: A polysomnographic study comparing to-do lists and completed activity lists. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2018;147(1):139-146. doi:10.1037/xge0000374