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Suffering from insomnia? Here’s how writing a poem could help you sleep

By in Press Enterprise on December 3, 2017

By Tim Green

Before signing off for bed recently, a friend told me, “At the end of a day during which I’ve written something, I feel that the day, the entire day, has been well spent.”

Unfortunately, I haven’t been writing frequently enough to know that feeling, but I remember it. It also reminded me of what I think the most valuable function of poetry might be for a society: It helps us sleep at night.

Wrightwood poet and author Tim Green is editor of Rattle magazine.

I’ve often said that the collective health of a culture could be measured in the volume of poets it produces, and there’s actually a large body of scientific literature that suggests this might be true to some extent.

Studies on the positive effects of expressive writing began in the 1980s when psychologist James W. Pennebaker and his colleagues asked undergraduates to write about personally traumatic experiences for four consecutive days. Six weeks later, those students reported more positive moods and fewer illnesses than the control group, which wrote about trivial matters. Later studies included blood draws, and showed enhanced immune and cognitive function within the trauma-writing groups.

A 1999 study by Joshua Smyth and Arthur Stone at the State University of New York’s Stony Brook campus gave the same task to patients with asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, who then demonstrated improved lung capacity and a reduction of disease severity. While it wasn’t clear what was causing these salutary effects, it was strong evidence that psychological factors inherent in the act of writing itself can have a real influence on physical health.

Most people are familiar with the concept of catharsis, a Greek word which means “a bodily purging.” In a Freudian sense, it means the expulsion of the emotions that are supposedly clouding and confounding our minds. But writing requires […]    

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