I kicked off the year with a new commitment: to fill out a night journal each evening when I get into bed.
I have found this to be really beneficial so far, and want to share with you why I'm doing it, how I'm doing it, and how you can benefit too.
I'm even going to share the night journal prompts that I use to put my thoughts to bed.
Why Night Journal?
Journaling is hugely popular, and people have been keeping diaries since the invention of ink.
I'm a huge advocate of emptying your mind onto paper. It's a great mindfulness exercise that helps manage anxiety, fear, and negative thoughts. It's just a brilliant way to defragment your mind.
But filling out a journal at bedtime is particularly useful, especially for those who find it hard to settle the mind down in the evening and sometimes struggle to fall asleep.
We all carry worries around with us. These worries are drowned out or temporarily forgotten amidst the noise of the day, as we rush around for work, family, school, exercise, and all the rest of it.
When the busy day settles down and the television is switched off and we've logged out of social media platforms, these worries, fears, and concerns make their way to the forefront of our minds.
It's not just about worries and fears and anxieties, though. When the lights go out, we suddenly start remembering important things that we don't want to forget:
- I must email…
- I must pay that bill
- I must call…
- The car needs a service
- My project is due in on Friday
- I forgot to ……..
Such thoughts are not conducive to a relaxed state of mind and a good night's sleep.
Evaluating the Day & Putting it to Bed
A night journal helps you put the day to bed. It is a chance to evaluate the day, accept that it has happened, and then to let it go.
Writing these thoughts down helps us close the book, pardon the pun.
It draws a line between today and tomorrow.
And the beautiful thing about waking up in the morning is that you have another chance to make a difference, be that to your life or someone else's.
Without drawing this line in the sand, today can spill over into tomorrow. And this stops us being present.
This stops us moving forward past the difficulties we encountered the previous day.
A night journal gives us a chance to put the day into perspective and close that chapter of our lives.
How to Write Your Night Journal
As I said, the best thing about waking up in the morning is having a new dawn, a chance to make today a better day than yesterday.
It is a chance to be more happier, more considerate, and more positive.
So instead of storing and suppressing all of these thoughts and feelings inside your mind while trying to go to sleep, you can write them down.
You don't need to fill out the journal in bed, but that is what I do. I then read until I feel sleepy, which is usually after about 10-15 minutes.
You can fill yours out on the sofa or wherever you are in the house.
However, I do recommend that it's pretty much the last thing you do before going to sleep.
That's the point of the exercise.
Doing this regularly will signal to your brain that the day is ending, that you are letting everything go and preparing to sleep.
Night Journal Prompts
My night journal consists of five headings, as follows:
- Tomorrow's goal
- Today's achievements
- Let it go!
- Happy thought for the day
- Positivity score: 1 -10
Keep it Simple
My personal take on night journaling is that it should be kept simple and streamlined.
You don't want to be sitting on the edge of your bed writing paragraphs of text. It should not be taxing on the brain. Keep it really simple and to the point.
It should take you no more than five minutes.
I will give you an example for each using my categories above.
1. Tomorrow's Goal
In this section, include a simple statement or a list of tasks.
Your statement could be something all encompassing such as “Be more grateful”, or something with intention such as “Do a random act of kindness”, or “Go for a morning run”.
Or it could be a list-based answer, covering a handful of important things that you really want to do tomorrow:
- Meditation: 15 minutes in the morning.
- Send email to Jack about the project.
- Book the car in for a service.
- Arrange dinner date with Maria.
2. Today's Achievements
Again, this could be a bulleted list of tasks that you did, or a statement regarding your feelings or behavior, or both.
- Finished my accounts, yay!
- Ran 5k.
- Felt less stressed and more patient with others
3. Let it Go
This section should come to you very easily and requires just a few words.
If there was something particular that happened during the day that is playing on your mind, this is the section to write it down in.
It could be something that disappointed you, something that upset you, or something that made you angry.
- My disagreement with mom. It doesn't matter, we're both still here for each other.
- Didn't get the apartment. Never mind, something else will come up.
- Blaming the past. I can't change it.
4. Happy Thought for the Day
This can be something that happened to you, happened to someone else, or something random that you thought about.
It can be anything that made you smile, made you happy, or made you have positive thoughts.
- Jennifer is getting married.
- I booked my holiday to Thailand!
- My yoga session was such a release.
- The kids really enjoyed the park today.
This is the shortest section and simply requires you to note a number 1-10.
Again, don't think about it too much.
You should be able to feel out the exact number to apply to the day. You can use half numbers too. Perhaps you think 8 is too much and 7 sounds to low, but 7.5 feels about right.
This is where you put the day to bed.
If it is a low number because the day didn't leave you feeling positive, that's no problem. In fact, it's a positive thing: because you have drawn a line under the sand and tomorrow you will look forward to improving on that number.
And if it's a high number, great! Draw a line under the sand and aim to go into tomorrow just as positive as today.
Night Journaling – Recap
- Preferably use a notepad/book and pen rather than a phone or tablet (see below)
- No more than 5 headings/sections
- Keep writing concise and to the point
- Should take no longer than 5 minutes
If you have a blank notebook then by all means use my template. If you are using a phone, you can simply type out the template and use it over again in a notepad app.
However, I'd prefer that you didn't use a phone, not least because there is something satisfyingly intimate and relaxing about writing things down with a pen and paper.
I realize that for the younger generation this might seem a bit alien, so if you do use your phone I suggest that you disconnect from the Internet and your data plan well before you get into bed – disconnecting is an important part of sleep hygiene and getting a good night's rest.
If you would rather buy a ready-made night journal, click the link below to grab one on Amazon.
Note: Sometimes these journals are called ‘Wind Down' or ‘Bedtime' journals. So if you struggle to find one, try searching with those phrases too.
You can also buy a normal plain journal and use my prompts as a guide to set yours up.
Here's to emptier minds and better sleep.