Is your busy mind keeping you up at night with its constant barrage of weird ideas and scary thoughts? This can lead you to feel even more anxious about getting a good night’s sleep, especially when you have a big day ahead of you, the next day. In this blog post, I’m going to take you through a proven, simple, cost-effective way to quieten your mind so you can fall asleep faster at night, and it’s all natural!
The average sleeper can take up to 20 minutes to fall asleep. If you are taking longer, then this strategy could be what you need to help you fall asleep quicker.
Bedtime worry is a significant contributor to staying awake when we’d rather be sleeping. Research shows that writing about our worries can help us fall asleep. 
You are forgiven if you thought a sleep journal was a place to track your sleep patterns. That is a sleep diary, or a variation thereof. A sleep journal is something you write in before you fall asleep.
Writing in a sleep journal is a bit different to journaling for clarity or reflecting on past experiences. Keeping a sleep journal is about writing down tasks (to-do-list) that you need to remember to do or say in the next couple of days. The more specific you can be with each task, the more helpful it will be for getting to sleep.
Our brain is a marvelous machine. When it fears you may forget something it starts to create a chain of stories so that you can remember what you need to remember. The more outlandish the better! However, the strategy quickly becomes overused and it overloads you, leading to intrusive thoughts that never seem to want to go away. This and your desire to be your best can be what keeps you awake.
Keeping a mental to-do list can lead to unnecessary worry. Committing your thoughts to paper is more than just writing it down. It requires a deeper level of psychological processing, and it signals to your brain that you have another strategy to remember things - it doesn’t have to risk becoming the single point of failure, if you forget.
The most effective way to help you fall asleep with a sleep journal is to use 5 minutes of your evening wind-down routine, to write down all of the things you need to remember for the next couple of days. If the thought of doing this fills you with dread, keep your list to bullet points, not a numbered list. Include everything that comes to mind, no matter how silly, inconsequential, or trivial they may seem. Write down each one, the order isn’t important, and provide as much detail on each as possible. You need to do this, even if you keep a separate to-do list somewhere else for staying organised or on top of your work. It can feel like you’re doubling up on activities but this one is specifically for getting to sleep.
There is no meaning to be found in how long your list is or how many pages it takes up. Your list is only a reflection on what is swimming around in your mind and keeping you awake.
This exercise needs to be a part of your pre-sleep wind down activities so that you can continue winding down towards sleep. Even better if you can do it as one of the last activities before lights out and falling asleep.
All you need is a notebook and a pen or something to write with. It is recommended that you use the same notebook each evening and only use it for this purpose. That way you build a strong psychological association between this list-making task and falling asleep. A digital list will not work as blue light interrupts your melatonin production and it may keep you awake for longer.
You may find when you start keeping a sleep journal that you have lots to write and therefore need more than 5 minutes. As you become more practiced at it, you will find 5 minutes will be enough.
If, after writing your sleep journal, you also wake in the night and struggle to get back to sleep. Pick up your sleep journal and review that evenings’ list and add to it. Over time you will become more practiced at writing everything down in one sitting before bed. Remember you’re cultivating a habit.
After a couple of weeks of daily, evening writing in your sleep journal you will notice how much more skilled you are at getting your to-do list out of your head an onto paper, and how much easier it is to fall asleep at night. And as you do, you may notice your intrusive thoughts subside, and that you fall asleep quicker!
So go ahead and start keeping a sleep journal to help you fall asleep quicker at night and banish those intrusive thoughts. Because the sooner you do, the sooner you’ll have confidence that you can fall asleep quicker and sleep longer.
Harrington, M. O., Ashton, J. E., Sankarasubramanian, S., Anderson, M. C., & Cairney, S. A. (2021). Losing Control: Sleep Deprivation Impairs the Suppression of Unwanted Thoughts. Clinical Psychological Science, 9(1), 97–113. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702620951511
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