If you’ve been struggling with sleep lately, there might be a simple, free solution that’s as old as the hills: gratitude. Several studies have revealed that writing in a gratitude journal before bed may help improve sleep quality and duration. In a trial conducted by the University of Manchester (UK), participants who kept a gratitude journal slept on average 30 minutes more. They also reported feeling more refreshed upon waking, and were more alert during the day.
But what is it about gratitude that affects sleep, and how do we reap similar benefits? In today’s article, we look at how gratitude affects the brain and primes us for sleep. Also, at the end we will cover practical ways you can establish a gratitude ritual before bed.
4 Ways Gratitude Affects Sleep
1. Gratitude Switches On Your Brain’s ‘Sleep Center’
Zig Ziglar once said, “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions.” Now, many years later, science is starting to agree. A large part of that is the effect of gratitude on the human brain. Not only does gratitude release dopamine (a ‘feel-good’ hormone); it also activates the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus, in case you don’t know, helps control basic functions such as hunger and thirst. However, it also is involved with sleep. Since gratitude helps put the hypothalamus into action; it can prime us for healthy and natural sleep, especially when we practice it before bed.
2. Gratitude Boosts Serotonin
You’ve probably heard the word ‘serotonin’ used when people talk about mood. Serotonin is another one of your ‘happy’ neurotransmitters and can increase feelings of well-being. However, Serotonin is also a very important chemical for sleep because your body uses it to create melatonin. Melatonin helps regulate your natural sleep cycle and circadian rhythm. Practicing gratitude can naturally increase the circulation of serotonin in your brain and help you get good sleep.
3. Your Bedtime Thoughts Matter
In a 2009 study, a panel of researchers concluded that ‘pre-sleep’ cognitions have a measurable impact on how well you sleep, and how good you feel the next day. In other words, they argued that the thoughts we think before bed have a major effect on our quality of rest. The participants in the study kept a gratitude journal, and the researchers concluded that gratitude is an excellent ritual to stir up pleasant thoughts.
4. Gratitude Quiets the Mind
Gratitude helps calm the nervous system and activate the body’s relaxation response. This is part of why gratitude prepares the body for deep sleep.
How To Sleep Better With A Nightly Gratitude Ritual
1. Make a list — If you’re just starting your gratitude practice, start with a simple list of 5 things that you’re grateful for. Try not to censor yourself. Include anything no matter how small or insignificant. Sometimes it takes time to get in the flow of gratitude before ideas start coming to you easily.
2. After writing it down, ask yourself ‘why?’ — If possible, try to go deep instead of wide in your gratitude practice. In other words, instead of coming up with a huge list of 100 things, try to meditate deeply on a smaller number of things. The more you focus on the reasons you are grateful, the more powerful the psychological effect of gratitude.
3. For Deeper Sleep, Journal Right Before Bed — If you really want to reap the sleep-promoting benefits, try writing down your gratitude list about 15 minutes before bed. This will prime your mind and body for sleep! For more in-depth suggestions about establishing a gratitude routine, visit this page at berkeley.edu.
There Are Many Other Things To Help You Sleep
Struggling with sleep can be a frustrating process. Thankfully there are many things that you can do to get a good night’s rest. There are many factors that determine your sleep quality, ranging from lifestyle choices, diet, to mentality and many more. If you’re willing to try something new, there are several approaches you can take to regain your sleep.
“If you’re worried and you can’t sleep, Count your blessings instead of sheep, And you’ll fall asleep, Counting your blessings...”
-Bing Crosby “White Christmas”