‘Tis the season of gratitude and while you might be used to expressing thanks around the dinner table, we recently learned the benefits of giving thanks at bedtime and we think you’re really going to be amazed. You see, studies show that not only does daily gratitude make you a happier person, they’ve also shown that keeping a gratitude journal that’s used before going to bed can actually make you fall asleep faster and sleep better. The simple process of writing down grateful thoughts will remind you of all the things you are thankful for and fill you with positive thoughts as you nod off. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
Here’s just a little bit of what studies have shown:
HappierHuman.com created this diagram based on more than 40 scientific studies charting all the benefits of gratitude.
You’ll notice that gratitude leads to happiness and happiness leads to all the other positive benefits.
How does a bedtime gratitude journal play into the picture? Here’s what some of the newest research says on that habit:
- According to a recent study in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, when students wrote in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes every night, they worried less and slept longer and better.
- In another study, psychologists asked people with neuromuscular disorders to make nightly lists of things they were grateful for. After just three weeks, the participants reported getting longer, more refreshing sleep.
- In a study that examined people’s brain activity during thoughts of gratitude, researchers found it increased activity in the part of the brain that creates dopamine. Dopamine helps regulate a person’s sleep and wakefulness and it also influences the brain’s electrical activity during sleep.
- Remembering happy memories has also been show to increase serotonin levels and serotonin helps regulate sleep, as well.
Oftentimes, at the end of the day it’s a little too easy to reflect on what went wrong and not see the good, so the gratitude journal is an amazingly simple practice to trick your brain into smiling and make you sleep more peacefully. “If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep,” says Dr. Emmons in “Thanks!” his book on gratitude research.
Here are a few tips on how to get started with your own bedtime gratitude journal:
- Keep it simple. One sentence or even one phrase every night can be enough to start. Write one thing that you were grateful for that day. If you want to write more, then of course feel free, but don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to write paragraphs of Oprah-esque prose.
- Always keep your journal in the same spot to help you not forget. Digging around your house looking for a piece of paper isn’t going to make you feel restful. There are gratitude journal apps available if you want to do this on a device, but we still like the old fashioned writing on paper for this kind of thing. It makes it feel a bit more calming.
- Free your mind. If you can’t think of something specific from that day, then go back in the past. Remember one of the things in your life that someone did for you that you are thankful for. Maybe write them a quick note the next day to let them know how much you still appreciate what they did. A little thoughtfulness like this goes a long way – not only are you happier, but so is someone else because they know they are appreciated.
- Do it as a family. Everyone needs better sleep, so ask your children each night what they were thankful for that day. Teaching them a practice of gratitude will not only help them to fall asleep, but will be an asset to their character for the rest of their lives and benefit them in all the ways listed above, too! What a gift! Plus, keeping a family journal is also a great way to keep a record of your family’s life. You’d be amazed how even a quick phrase entered in your journal can release a memory of that day years later.
Have you tried a practice of gratitude before? Share your experiences and advice in the comments!