A good night’s sleep is the best way to put your brain in working order. Though for some, actually falling asleep can be an elusive dream. Putting one’s head on the pillow does not always lead to a soft departure into the world of nod. Rather it can be the start of a brain rumination. This is where thoughts of what happened during the day or what needs to get accomplished tomorrow run an endless loop in the mind. Do your nightly thoughts send you into a tossing and turning fight to fall asleep? If this sounds like you, take some advice about writing down your thoughts before falling asleep.
Writing down a nightly brain-dump is good for your mental health. It will make you more productive in the long run. Scientists have known for years that your brain tends to obsess about uncompleted tasks. We do a better job remembering the things we need to do, rather than the things we’ve already done. This is called the “Zeigarnik” effect, named after the Russian psychologist who identified the phenomenon. The effect was first seen in studies of waiters who were able to recall a diner’s order before it was served. But as soon as the table was fed, the waiters’ no longer remembered who had ordered the fish or the soup or the pasta.
Your brain works just like the waiter’s brain. Your mind holds onto things that still need to be finished. Over time that mental to-do list gets pretty crowded and becomes stressful and distracting. But a study from Wake Forest University found that just making a plan to finish tasks (like writing them down) can relieve us from the anxiety of unfinished tasks. What are you doing when you create a written list every night of the next day’s events? You are relieving your mind and allowing it to rest, rather than ruminate. Try writing down your thoughts tonight and get a good night’s sleep!