We’re all pretty obsessed with sleep. How much we’re getting, how much other people are getting, how little we can manage on.
However, that’s quite understandable when you think of the impact a lack of sleep has on us. For those who really struggle to drop off, or who wake up at 4am and then can’t nod off again for hours, it’s really no laughing matter. Not only can it leave us irritable and not really ourselves, but it might even be dangerous if we’re affected to the extent that our reaction times are reduced when we have to drive or operate heavy machinery.
The interior design brand Hillarys recently published a graphic showing where in the world is struggling with sleeplessness the most, based on the number of tweets about the subject. The worst-affected nations at the time of writing were the US, Brazil, Argentina and the UK – and the map only includes data from the people who were talking about their insomnia, never mind those who were suffering in silence. There are likely to be millions of people lying awake on any given night, wishing they could do something to get them off to sleep.
One of the most-cited reasons for sleeplessness is worrying about the never-ending list of tasks you’ve got to do. In our always-connected world, it can feel as though we’re always under pressure to be doing something, and that’s not conducive to restful nights.
If you’ve got insomnia, then the chances are you’ve tried all sorts to help you rejoin the land of nod. But what if getting on board with a recent, really simple trend could help: creative planning?
This is currently huge news in the world of crafts, with personal and A5-sized organisers flying off the shelves and brands like Filofax enjoying a resurgence. But there is evidence to suggest that planning, bullet journalling, or whatever you want to call it might do more than scratch an itch for creativity. It could help you get a better night’s sleep.
1. Writing things down can help you remember them
If you keep a planner by your side and write down your to-dos or reminders in a list, you may be more likely to remember them. A 2014 study at UCLA, published in the journal Association of Psychological Science, found that students who take physical notes are more likely to remember information than those who transcribe them into a laptop. That might mean that your planner notes are more likely to remain fresh in your mind than a quick reminder tapped into your phone – and that means there’s less chance of you sitting bolt upright in bed at 3am because you’ve realised you’ve forgotten something vital that you should have done for the next day.
2. Noting things gives your brain room to breathe
A popular technique in modern planners is the brain dump, taken from an idea conceived by Getting Things Done guru David Allen. It involves jotting down every task and project you need to address, whether that’s buying bread on the way home or pitches for a client at work. The idea is that our brains can only deal with so many things to remember at once, so clearing them out and putting them on paper allows our minds to relax – and perhaps even sleep at night. Seeing what you actually have to do can also help you to put your to-do list into perspective and see that you are getting through it – it isn’t really a mile long.
3. Being creative distracts busy minds
We’ve all seen the phenomena that are adult colouring books and knitting, but they’re both popular because they encourage relaxation, mindfulness and winding down at the end of a busy day. If you like to be creative in your planner, as many people are right now with stickers and decorative layouts, it’ll work in the same way: you’re keeping your mind busy and distracted with something calm, rather than letting it roam off in a million directions as you try to concentrate on TV. This can help you think more clearly and reduce stress hormones that keep you awake.
4. Journalling can reduce stress
You don’t have to journal in a planner, but if you do, it could help to make you happier and reduce your worry levels. Many people are now adding a single line each day to their planners about what they’re grateful for, something that can easily be done before you go to bed and could put you in a more positive, less anxious frame of mind. Studies have shown that keeping a journal can help with processing worries and putting them into perspective, as well as with improving sleep time and quality, so it’s perhaps worth a try in this context to see if it can have a positive impact.
5. Planning reduces screen time
Research has found that the blue light emitting from tablet, phone and laptop screens can have a detrimental effect on our sleep because it stops us producing sleep hormones that help us nod off. If you commit to putting your devices down earlier each night and instead plough that time into organising your planner and tasks for the next day, you should soon start to see the benefits; even if your phone isn’t stressing you out, you can’t argue with the biology behind this theory.
Planning on paper might at first seem like a chore and a step backwards, given the technology available to us today. But if it helps you get a better night’s sleep, you might find yourself converted in no time – and finally checking ‘get more sleep’ off your to-do list.