How Gratitude Journalling Improves Sleep
Journaling is a very powerful practice that some of the most successful people in the world do.
In this week’s blog I wanted to share a personal story of my discovery of gratitude, and in particular, the benefits that I’ve felt as a result of journaling around this concept.
Part of the reason that people have anxiety and trouble sleeping is a fixation on the things they haven’t done and what they don’t have.
For the intention of a pre-bedtime ritual, you could consider using your journal to capture stray thoughts and to get any random ideas or concerns out of your head and onto paper.
I have found that this practice alone helps to free up enough mental space to relax and wind down in the evenings, inevitably helping me to get to sleep easier.
If you’re reading this right now, chances are you far more fortunate than you realise, and you may have gotten out of touch with just how much you have to be grateful for.
Just the act of paying attention and writing down the things for which we are grateful can make us more receptive to all of the good things that we often take for granted.
Recent research has confirmed these benefits too. A University of Manchester study looked at how gratitude affected people’s sleep. They recruited 400 adults of all ages (40% with sleep disorders) and asked them to complete questionnaires that asked about gratitude, sleep and their pre-sleep thoughts.
Gratitude was related to having more positive thoughts and fewer negative ones prior to bedtime. In turn, this was associated with falling asleep quicker, sleeping longer and sleeping better.
So, there you have it – this stuff is important!
My Journey of Discovering Gratitude
One day, about 18 months ago, I was sat with my now yoga teacher Michael and we were sharing our musings about life.
Michael was explaining the concept of ‘Shanti’, which I understood as peaceful presence, or perhaps calmness, tranquillity or bliss (one challenge of Ancient Indian Sanskrit for westerners seems to be that few words have a direct translation to English, leaving space for many interpretations… or misinterpretations).
I had not at that time, and still rarely do, experience states of pure bliss. But even those rare encounters with Shanti have led me to seek more of the same, to consider how I could possibly grow or encourage the positive emotions that accompany such experiences so that I may feel peace and love more often in my life – especially whilst enduring challenge and chaos and hardship.
It wasn’t until later when reading The Heart of Yoga (another recommendation from Michael) that I had my gratitude light bulb moment. In the book, T.K.V Desikachar describes the relationship of positive and negative emotions along these lines (paraphrased):
Opposite thoughts and feelings cannot coexist. They are mutually exclusive. There is immense power in cultivating opposite feelings – gratitude is an emotion that one has the power to cultivate daily should one wish to. Practicing this habit of being grateful is within our conscious control.
Immediately, I began to analyse this concept internally.
“Oh, you mean the brief happiness that I feel inside when I land a new client, beat my competition, engage in the activities that I enjoy, go on holiday, get birthday or Christmas presents?”
I laugh when I think back to that first internal dialogue.
After 18 months of consistently practising, cultivating and expressing my gratitude, my initial interpretation of the concept has transformed.
I now perceive gratitude as a summonable positive emotion that is capable of permeating our entire being, bringing with it a feeling of love, joy and contentment. Perhaps the closest way that I can describe this is the feeling that we may sometimes experience (temporarily) when we make material gains but in a far more consistent and less-fleeting way.
Don’t have a clue what I’m talking about?
Don’t worry. I didn’t either until I had experienced it first-hand (this took a while).
I’m not going to try to explain the experience of gratitude further. I think I would be wasting my time and likely contributing towards all sorts of false or confusing narratives in your head.
I will, however, quote David Green in his book The Invisible Hand to help illustrate this issue. Here he speaks about meditation, but I believe the phenomenon that he describes can be generalised to almost all of life’s experience-based pursuits.
“It is really difficult to describe the experience of meditation in the same way as it is nearly impossible to accurately describe the taste of food to someone who has never eaten before. You have to taste it to really know.”
As a health & well-being educator and fellow human on my own journey of self-discovery throughout life, the best that I can do in this situation is to share some of the research around gratitude and my top tips for developing your own practice.
Gratitude has CHANGED MY LIFE for the better in more ways than I could have ever predicted…
So, Some Easy Science… What is ‘Gratitude’?
The act of recognising and expressing gratitude has been linked to many physical, psychological and social health benefits.
Research has shown that a daily practice of gratitude is capable of decreasing stress levels, lowering blood pressure, improving sleep quality, strengthening the immune system and increasing feelings of joy, happiness, forgiveness and compassion.
Subjectively, I can tell you that I have felt every single one of these benefits.
Leading gratitude researcher Robert A. Emmons offers an interpretation of gratitude that describes two components; affirming the goodness in our lives and exploring where that goodness comes from.
One of the most well-researched methods of expressing gratitude is through keeping a ‘gratitude journal’.
Useful Tips To Help You Get Started
- Spend at least 5-10 minutes writing about the things that you feel grateful for. Some people find it easier to write later in the evening so that you can include events and experiences that occurred throughout that day – this also helps you to unwind and relax, improving your sleep.
- Try to integrate journaling as part of your daily routine, but also consider writing down joyful experiences as they happen. I found that doing this at roughly the same time each day helped me to build the habit and allowed it to stick.
- There are a variety of things that you can express gratitude for, from basic material things such as your home, your warm bed or the food on your table, to the people, places and experiences that bring you joy and happiness.
- Try to avoid repeating the same entries. This means that the practice of gratitude journaling might become challenging at times, but this exact challenge is what will allow your awareness and sense of gratitude to flourish over time.
- Attempt to find something to be grateful for about the people and the things that you don’t like. This will help to shift your perceptions and bring you more happiness.
- Get creative – your gratitude journal doesn’t only have to be lists and words, it could include photos, pictures, drawings or physical objects (similar to a scrapbook).
- Most importantly – don’t forget to be grateful for yourself and your abilities. Appreciate everything that your mind and body can do, whether that is exercising, walking, reading, cooking or having the will to persevere through some of the more challenging moments of your health journey.
I will leave you with a few powerful, inspiring words from Tony Robbins that I hope will spark the beginning of your journey towards a life imbued with gratitude.
“Without gratitude and appreciation for what you already have, you’ll never know true fulfilment.” – Tony Robbins
Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to you for taking the time to read this article and as usual ask a few questions…
- Do you keep a bedtime journal?
- Have you felt the power of gratitude and positive emotions for improving your sleep?
- What one piece of advice would you give to somebody else who is worried about starting a gratitude journal and it seeming ingenuine?
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Dan & Jamie