Ralph Waldo Emerson said that a man is what he thinks about all day long. Emerson probably preferred to journal at night. And there’s a surprising amount of research to back up the idea that journaling at night is better than journaling in the morning.


Is it better to journal in the morning or at night? It’s better to  journal your thoughts at night rather than in the morning because it helps you to clear your mental palate and sleep better. Studies show it’s better to journal at night because it gives you an outlet for emotions and thoughts that might otherwise keep you awake.



Even though there is sound scientific research to support the idea that journaling at night is better, many people prefer to journal in the morning. And further investigation shows there are good arguments to both sides.   


When to write in a journal


Journaling at night is key to a refreshing night of sleep. Which leads to a productive day tomorrow.


This is especially true if you find yourself constantly waking up in the middle of the night still processing the events of the previous day. 


During a recent interview, sleep researcher Dr. Michael Scullin said that there’s something about the act of putting your thoughts on paper before bed that helps put a pause on the day.


He especially recommends creating a to-do list for the next day because half-done or un-done projects tend to rattle around in your brain and keep you up in the middle of the night. Bullet journaling is a good journaling method to help you create a to-do list. You can find more information in the sections below.


  • Choose a notebook that makes you happy when you see it. There are journals with writing prompts included to help you if you get stuck.
  • Committing even five minutes of journal time at night can help you sleep better. Ideally, you should find a comfortable chair in a quiet place. Grab yourself a glass of wine or maybe some chamomile tea.
  • Use this quiet time to process your day or do a memory dump. This is a good time to vent about that co-worker who’s driving you crazy with their bad habit. Or ponder that possible promotion.
  • Create a to-do list for the next day. You may have some projects that need to be accomplished and by writing it down, you are able to keep track of it on paper versus trying to remember it in the middle of the night. Think of it as a way to hit the pause button.


Forty-one college students who had persistent problems falling asleep at night were given an assignment for a week. Journal for 15 minutes before bed about something positive or what they were grateful for. When tested, researchers found that these students no longer had racing thoughts at night, but were able to sleep better and longer.


Journaling at night doesn’t have to happen right before bed. Often times, you might be so spent that you don’t want to add one more thing to your bedtime routine.


End of the Work Day Journal


Instead, consider journaling at the end of your work day. Use this time to reflect on the events of the workday and as a transition before going home.

  • Take fifteen minutes to write down projects you are working on.
  • Process negative interactions with co-workers or customers. This gives you a safe space to think and reflect on how to create healthy responses in the future.
  • Think about what your short and long-term goals are and how you can accomplish them.
  • Journal about stressful situations. This might pinpoint areas in your job or career that need to be changed.


After-dinner journaling


Similar to a nice glass of wine or a tasty dessert, journaling after dinner can be a quiet way to wind down the day.


  • Reflect on the day. Did you accomplish everything you wanted to accomplish?
  • Be introspective. Are you where you want to be in life? If not, what small step can you take to get there?
  • If you are goal-oriented, break down your goals for the next day.


Journaling before bed


Think about journaling before bed as if you are putting the day to bed. Closing the book on today, so you can start fresh tomorrow.


After the hubbub of the day is done and noise is gone, those deep-seated concerns that we grapple with often float to the surface. Or all the things we forgot to do today that still need to get done.


Keep it simple. Don’t spend oodles of time journaling. Maybe five to ten minutes. Find your most comfortable spot; like a favorite armchair and ottoman.


Include things like:


  • What is your goal for tomorrow.
  • What you accomplished today.
  • What you should let go of.
  • What made you happy today.


Journaling in the morning


Some people sleep perfectly fine at night and prefer to journal in the morning. When everything is fresh and new. The world is quiet. The household is still sleeping, and they can be thoughtful before the rigors of the day begin.


Here are some benefits to journaling in the morning.


  • It helps you clear your mind. If you’re the type of person who prefers to delay a decision until the next day, this is a good time to capture your reflections before they disappear into the mayhem of the day.
  • Author Jamie Friedlander shares that journaling  first thing in the morning, for twenty minutes, helps her clear her head before the day starts. After fourteen years of journaling in the morning, she says it has helped her cope with her anxiety disorder by identifying areas she obsessing over.
  • Maybe you’re experiencing an emotional block. And by allowing your thoughts to flow on paper in the morning, while you are still vulnerable, can help you past it.
  • Genius simmers overnight. The creative process often works best when there isn’t anything else blocking it. This is a great time put pen to paper and write that best-selling novel or life-changing poem.
  • Stops self-doubt. We are our own worst judges. It’s easier to be honest and self-reflective when you aren’t constantly criticizing your work or second-guessing your decisions.


Different journaling methods


When most people think about journaling, they think about a written record of what happened during the day. Or how they felt about something. Or their experiences during a certain event.


And that is all true about journaling.


But there are other methods of journaling that people use for different reasons. Whether it’s for therapy or setting goals, you might find these journaling methods helpful.


Gratitude Journaling


This is an excellent way to journal if you are struggling with depression or going through a very difficult time. Use this way of journaling at night, to help you process heavy emotions. A steady diet of grateful thoughts before bed can lead to a better night of sleep.


  • Write things down that you are grateful for.
  • Choose five to ten things. Fill up your brain space with thankfulness.
  • If you continually look for things to be grateful, you create a positive feed-back loop and don’t leave room for unconstructive thoughts.


A study done in 2015 examined the role of expressing gratitude in a group of people suffering from heart failure. Researchers discovered that by writing down three things they were grateful for every night, for eight weeks, these patients:


  • Had a better night of sleep overall.
  • Experienced less fatigue during the day.
  • Maintained a positive
  • Had increased spiritual well-being.
  • Believed they were capable of handling difficult situations.
  • Had better overall heart health.


Bullet journaling


This is a good method for analytical thinkers who want a practical way of organizing your goals and keeping productive. It’s designed to be used throughout the day.


Bullet journaling is a method of organizing your thoughts, to-do lists, reminders and future events by tracking them throughout the day. Author Ryder Carroll developed this method of journaling, because of learning disabilities, as an alternative way to stay focused and productive.


Instead of writing out long sentences by hand, he says to use a short-hand method called Rapid Logging.


Pair short sentences with specific symbols to easily identify what kind of entry:


  • Tasks –represented by a dot, this is your to-do list.
  • Events- use an open circle to show this category. This is to track things that are happening or how you felt about the experience. For example. Saw old high school buddy today. Feeling old.
  • Notes – this is tracked with a dash and includes all the things you don’t want to forget. Like remembering someone’s birthday or a grocery item.


There are four different categories you track these entries in:


  • The index –this is your table of contents, so you can turn to the right page to document the entry.
  • Future log –this is to track events happening outside the current month.
  • Monthly log –this category gives you a birds-eye view of the month. Like a calendar. Things can be added after they occurred.
  • Daily Log –This is for day-to-day use and can be created the night before or that day.


Stream-of-conscious journaling


This is a good method for creative people who prefer to journal in the morning.


Stream-of-conscious journaling means spending time in the morning free writing at least three pages of thought. Without care to grammar, punctuation, or spelling.


Award-winning author, Julie Cameron in her book, “ The Artists Way” developed this 12-week journaling journey to help People unleash their creative flow, writing three pages in the morning, before your brain has a change to engage.


  • Ignore writing rules. Grammar and spelling only get in the way.
  • There is no wrong way to write. This isn’t an entry for a best seller.
  • Commit to journaling. Be in it for the long haul.
  • Don’t go back and re-read your words. So, you aren’t tempted to edit and question yourself.
  • Get real. Don’t be afraid to pour raw emotions on paper.


This method isn’t about being creative, she says. But about our concerns that play like a daily sound-track. By putting them on paper, we become more alert and in the moment. Aware of other creative choices.


Interstitial journaling


This method of journaling is meant to happen throughout the day as a way to transition from one project to the next.


Productivity Coach Tony Stubblebine formulated this method to help combat procrastination in the work place and increase productivity. He likes to work on a project for 25 minutes, then journal for five minutes.


He says that humans weren’t meant for multi-tasking and attempting to move on to a new project while you are still thinking about the last project can cause us to become derailed. And your next project suffers because you aren’t giving it your full attention.


He defines a project as checking an email to working on a presentation. Even the act of moving from one task to the next can be disruptive. He suggests doing short journal entries between each project. No more than four sentences. Keep it short and sweet.


  • Use any journal, notebook or app you prefer. The means doesn’t matter as much as the method.
  • Note the start and stop time of the project. People like to look back on the day and see what they accomplished.
  • Journal just a few sentences about that project and what you accomplished. This is when you dump your thoughts on paper and move on.
  • Stubblebine says this helps him when he’s reviewing the day and can identify times when he got distracted. He analyzes what caused it and how he can be more efficient.
  • Then write down the first step in your next project. You don’t have to think about the how of starting, just the when.


Goal Journaling


This method of journaling helps you break down short and longer-term goals into bite-sized chunks. It’s like the old adage about how you eat a whole elephant one bite at a time. Do this type of journaling at night, when you can reflect back on the day.


There’s something about seeing your goals written down that makes them feel tangible.


Instead of these someday ideas floating around in your head of what you’d like to accomplish one day, you articulate them in such a way that they feel concrete. Physical.


Identify your goals and steps to take toward making them happen.


  • Short term goals are smaller steps you take toward accomplishing bigger goals.
  • Do this by deciding what you want to accomplish and when. Then work your way back toward the present day, creating actionable steps.


Set aside 15-20 minutes a night to journal about your progress. It’s like keeping a record of your past successes. When you look back on where you started, you can see how far you came. And if you can accomplish this goal, then you can do another one.


Journaling about your goals will often cause hidden fears to float to the surface. By becoming aware of our doubts, we can defeat them with honest assessments.


It may also help you identify potential obstacles to your goals and help you overcome them. Or it shows how you overcame similar obstacles in the past so you can help others.


If you are having trouble quantifying your goals, journaling can be a place you brainstorm and figure out the next steps.


Create actionable next steps to generate momentum. You can’t steer a parked car.


Journaling tips


  • Choose your favorite time of day. -Are you a night owl or an early bird?
  • Create a habit.- Make a deliberate choice to journal at your preferred time of day. By incorporating this into your daily life, it’ll eventually become part of your routine.
  • Write with a pen and paper – there’s something about the motion of using tactile tools that helps inspire creativity.
  • Be comfortable –You are more likely to enjoy journaling if you enjoy the space.
  • Avoid distractions –This is probably the hardest part of journaling. If possible, turn the tv off and the loud music. Use sound-dampening headphones to block out the world and all its noise, if needed.
  • Use writing prompts -If you need a little extra help, using writing prompts can be a big help to get your creative juices flowing.
  • Don’t be afraid to journal about negative experiences. Instead of bottling up your emotions, express them on paper and brings some feelings of relief.
  • Even journaling about past trauma can be beneficial, but you have to keep working through it.
  • Use it as a time of reflection and analysis. You can look back and recognize unhealthy patterns.


What if you don’t have time to journal? Then carry a travel journal with you, or use the notes feature on your phone during the day.


Whether you decide it’s better to journal at night versus in the morning, the act of journaling your thoughts is very beneficial. No matter what method you choose, embrace the journey ahead.

Scott Megit