Expressive Letter-Writing and a Better Night’s Sleep?
Last December (2006) a study, “Health Effects of Expressive Letter Writing,” by Catherine Mosher and Sharon Danoff-Burg, was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. The study looked at what can happen when healthy college students write a letter to someone of significance in their life.
108 students were randomly divided into three groups:
• Experimental group 1—students were asked to write an expressive letter to a person of significance in their life who had helped them
• Experimental group 2—students were asked to write an expressive letter to a person of significance in their life who had hurt them
• The control group—students were asked to write a letter to a school official on an impersonal topic
At one-month follow-up two significant differences were discovered between the experimental groups and the control group.
1. As a group, those who had written to a person of significance in their life slept longer—they slept a mean of 7.1 hours compared to 6.4 hours
2. They also reported significantly fewer days in the previous month when physical or mental health symptoms prevented them from engaging in routine activities.
Interestingly, no significant difference was reported between those who had written to someone who had helped them and those who had written to someone who had hurt them. Both kinds of expression—conveying thoughts and feelings to someone who had helped and to someone who had hurt—seemed of value when it came to health.
And they slept longer. It’s an intriguing finding. I can’t say that I know quite what it means. But I can say that for a whole host of conditions—from depression to fibroymyalgia to treatment for cancer to the stresses and strains of ordinary life—it has been my observation, over and over, that sleep can be enormously healing. Something seems to happen when we sleep—a kind of deep restoration—that does not happen at any other time. So if a single letter like this could enhance sleep duration—well, that would seem to be of significance.
[Thank you to Susan Bernard for sending me the link for this study.]