Writing a to-do list for the next day before bedtime helps people fall asleep faster, new research finds.
The more specific the list, the faster people fall asleep.
Dr Michael K. Scullin, who led the study, said:
“We live in a 24/7 culture in which our to-do lists seem to be constantly growing and causing us to worry about unfinished tasks at bedtime.
Most people just cycle through their to-do lists in their heads, and so we wanted to explore whether the act of writing them down could counteract nighttime difficulties with falling asleep.”
The 57 people in the study wrote for just five minutes before sleeping.
The study compared writing a to-do list with writing a list of completed activities before bedtime.
Dr Scullin said:
“There are two schools of thought about this.
One is that writing about the future would lead to increased worry about unfinished tasks and delay sleep, while journaling about completed activities should not trigger worry.
The alternative hypothesis is that writing a to-do list will ‘offload’ those thoughts and reduce worry,”
The research was conducted in a sleep lab and people had their electrical brain activity monitored overnight.
Dr Scullin was cautious about the results:
“Measures of personality, anxiety and depression might moderate the effects of writing on falling asleep, and that could be explored in an investigation with a larger sample.
We recruited healthy young adults, and so we don’t know whether our findings would generalize to patients with insomnia, though some writing activities have previously been suggested to benefit such patients.”
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The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology (Scullin et al., 2018).