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I don’t call my journaling practice “Morning Pages,” but that is the term introduced to me by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way. And almost all the avid journalers I know all journal in the morning, citing all kinds of benefits to their daily writing by journaling first thing. It was never or rarely a nightly routine.
Morning pages are supposed to be a warmup to writing. You free-write for three full pages (maybe four, I can’t remember now) and so much creativity flows from your brain. It is like when a runner stretches before a run, or a piano player does scales before playing.
It seemed important to journal in the morning. Sometimes I would journal in the middle of the day or at night, but most of the time, I pulled out my notebook and pen as soon as I boiled water for my morning tea.
Then, I began noticing something. My morning journaling practice did not often transfer into more writing throughout the day. I found that I would spend an hour or so writing in my journal, examining internal narratives, challenging my inner critic, writing descriptions of the day, and then when I closed my notebook, it was a struggle to write more words. My brain kept believing that my writing was done for the day after scribbling in my journal.
More than a year later, I decided to be intentional about journaling at night. I tried it a few times and found that journaling at night allowed me to process the day, write it all out, and then I was able to sleep better. My brain had less to whirl around until it woke me up worrying about nothing or everything.
And so, my nightly routine was beginning.
I have long wanted to improve my sleep hygiene. I started putting limits on my Instagram time in the evenings – or at least tried to, so I needed something to take the place of my mindless scrolling.
Now that I was journaling at night, I moved my gratitude practice to the evening as well. It is easier to pair those two practices together. Then, I wondered what else I could do to help me sleep better until my nightly routine started to look like this:
- Light a candle: The flame of the candle is calming, and its warm glow helps set the tone for the rest of the routine.
- Write gratitudes: Before I journal, I write 10 things I am grateful for. They can be all over the place from the love of friends and family to my cozy blanket. Whatever I am feeling at the moment, I just write it out.
- Journal: I used to attempt to journal three pages every day until one day I realized I was putting stress on myself for something I was doing for self-care. Self-care routines should not be stressful, so I adjusted my practice to one page a day. Most of the time, I still write at least two pages, but there is no pressure.
- Turn off the light: Once all my writing is complete, I turn off my bedside light and bask in the glow of the flame from the candle.
- Breathwork: I am pretty new to breathwork, so I Googled how to do it. I do the 4-7-8 practice four times while focusing on the candle flame. The 4-7-8 practice is by Dr. Andrew Weil and consists of breathing in through your nose for 4 seconds, holding it for 7 seconds, and breathing out through your mouth while your tongue is touching the roof of your mouth behind your teeth for 8 seconds. It helps me center so I can meditate.
- Meditate: Full disclosure here, I am not good at mediation. It is hard for my brain to even focus on one thing, let alone nothing for any amount of time. However, after doing the breathwork, and focusing on the candle flame, I can sometimes get a few seconds of meditation in. That may not seem like a lot, but every time I try to be a person who meditates pushes me in the direction of being a person who meditates. I do not have to show up perfectly. I am simply showing up.
- Blow out the candle: This action signals to my brain that it is time to sleep.
- Sleep: And I sleep. Usually, pretty well. Instead of waking up almost every night, now I sleep almost every night. It’s been a big improvement.
This entire process usually takes about an hour or less. It allows me to wind my brain down before going to sleep. I would never have come up with this wonderful nightly ritual if I had stuck to my belief that journaling must happen in the morning. The flexibility I showed myself to meet my needs was the ultimate act of self-trust and self-care.
If you’re interested in beginning a journaling practice, but just can’t seem to get started, check out my course on Overcoming Barriers to Journaling. It is all the things I wish I thought to question all the times I tried to begin a practice and then didn’t.