How A Journaling Practice Could Help With Sleep Health

Personal reflections on my experience and the current research.

Emily Hokett
5 min readMar 10, 2024
Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash

I keep journals to review several aspects of my life. I reflect on my personal life, professional progress, and writing projects.

For me, writing is an active meditation. I enjoy the scratchy sounds of different pen types on paper surfaces. The clicky sound of the keys while typing on my keyboard is satisfying. I have fun playing with cursive lettering and colored pencils. I like feeling the indentations of the letters on completed notebook pages. Regardless of how I journal, it is a sensory, tactile experience. Journaling helps me slow down enough to focus on my ideas and intentions.

Given that journaling has some calming properties, it could, theoretically, help with getting to sleep and staying asleep throughout the night. Below, I will give an overview of two mechanisms by which journaling may help with sleep health.

Journal to maintain both mental health and sleep health

Our mental health is strongly tied to how well we sleep. Feelings of stress, sadness, and anger may interfere with falling asleep and sleeping throughout the night. If we can manage negative emotions during our waking hours, we can avoid feeling consumed with them when we try to sleep.

Journaling is a practical and accessible method that may help reduce negative emotions. A recent meta-analysis showed that journaling interventions may modestly improve mental health, including anxiety, depressive, and PTSD symptoms. That is, people who were assigned to a journaling condition showed greater improvement in their mental health than people who did not journal.

Relatedly, we previously discussed that people with lower depressive symptoms, including lower feelings of sadness and hopelessness, report better sleep health. Interestingly, the criteria for a depression diagnosis involve sleep problems (e.g., trouble sleeping, insomnia, and oversleeping, hypersomnia).

Mental health is strongly coupled with sleep health. Improving our mood may help improve sleep. Journaling is one method that may help us maintain good mental health and thereby sleep health.

Journal during the day to feel calm when bedtime comes

Because we have access to constant streams of information, we often have a lot on our minds. We don’t want to bring those thoughts to bed with us.

Pre-sleep arousal involves constantly replaying thoughts, or spiraling through ideas, during bedtime. Pre-sleep arousal has been associated with social media use. Passive scrolling on social media sites is designed to keep us awake and engaged, and this mental activity is of course disruptive to sleep.

Taking a step back from consuming content and more toward giving ourselves time to understand how we feel may help us let go of thoughts while trying to fall asleep. Quiet and reflective moments should not only happen during bedtime. Giving ourselves time during our waking hours to process our thoughts, perhaps through journaling, may be linked with lower pre-sleep arousal and thereby facilitate healthy sleep.

Practical considerations for journaling, mental health, and sleep health

First, the time that we journal might have a major influence on how journaling impacts our mental and sleep health. Some researchers have theorized that journaling near bedtime may lead to rumination, or repetitive, and often negative, thoughts about past events. Those of us who are prone to ruminative thinking patterns may need to avoid reflective journaling about negative events during the evening hours.

Now, with that caveat in mind, the following are a few practical tips that could help with your journaling practice, mental and sleep health.

  • Design a loose journaling ritual. Decide when and for how long you want to engage in journaling reflections. For example, I often journal in the morning for about 20 minutes and the evening for just a few minutes. I take quick notes and log my activities throughout the day.
  • Set constraints for your journal. If you keep an analog journal, I suggest having clear separation between work-specific notes (e.g., project notes, to-do lists) and personal, reflective notes. If you journal digitally, avoid giving yourself access to the internet while you journal. In any case, let your journal be a sacred place where you can reflect freely, away from other responsibilities and distractions.
  • Write a brain dump. Ryder Carroll developed the idea of the Bullet Journal. One collection that many people keep in their journals is a brain dump, or a loosely structured space for random ideas, including upcoming tasks. This list helps people externalize their thoughts by getting them onto a page, potentially allowing them to let go of the thoughts. These types of lists may help reduce pre-sleep arousal and facilitate high quality sleep. Indeed, we have previously discussed a study that showed young adults who wrote a detailed, next day to-do list before bed fell asleep more quickly than those who journaled about past events.
  • When you need it, write yourself a paper prayer. In one of my favorite books, Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad, Austin Kleon introduces a journaling method called the paper prayer. To do this, you need two columns. On one half of the page, you write a list of what you’re thankful for, the aspects of your life that you feel positive about. On the other side, write yourself a prayer. What do you need help with? You might add a third, action-based column. How can you solve the problems, or where can you go for help?

Journaling alone is not always a solution to our issues, but it may be used as a tool to better define them. Sometimes we need to consult a trusted medical professional to help us improve our mental health and sleep health.

I think of my journaling practice as a critical aspect of my “mental hygiene” routine. As I’ve mentioned before, my writing practice is essential to my mental health. Since journaling helps maintain mental health, it could be one avenue that helps with sleep, too.


  • Writing gratitude lists is one method of journaling that has been linked with improved sleep health.
  • Austin Kleon’s paper prayer is similar to Anne-Laure Le Cunff’s plus, minus, next system. She outlines a reviewing technique with three sections: positive aspects, negative ones, and next steps for the future. This is a useful method to take both a reflective and problem-focused approach during review.
  • Please note that the above is my opinion based on my personal experience and speculation on current research. More research is needed to support a direct link between reflective journaling and sleep health. If you are consistently having trouble with mental or sleep health, I recommend consulting a trusted medical professional.
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Take care. Talk soon.



Emily Hokett

healthy sleep advocate | writer, runner, doodler | learning time management skills to live a balanced, meaningful life