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Here’s a fast, easy and cheap way to help you spend less time lying awake at night: Make a to-do list.
Spending five minutes writing a to-do list prior to going to bed helped study participants fall asleep an average of nine minutes faster, , citing a study conducted at Baylor University.
The more detailed you are, the better. The study, published this month in the , notes:
“The more specifically participants wrote their to-do list, the faster they subsequently fell asleep … Therefore, to facilitate falling asleep, individuals may derive benefit from writing a very specific to-do list for 5 min at bedtime rather than journaling about completed activities.”
For the study, researchers compared two groups of people:
- Those who spent five minutes writing down tasks they need to complete in the next few days
- Those who spent five minutes writing down tasks they already had completed in the prior few days
The 57 study participants — all healthy people between ages 18 to 30 — were randomly assigned to do one of these two writing exercises before bedtime.
Lead study author Michael K. Scullin, director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, :
“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 study participants spent the night in a controlled sleep laboratory, with the lights going out at 10:30 p.m. and activities restricted thereafter.
Participants’ sleep was measured using overnight polysomnography recording, which enabled the researchers to monitor the participants’ electrical brain activity using electrodes.
The participants assigned to write a to-do list fell asleep in 16 minutes, on average, compared with 25 minutes for participants assigned to write about completed tasks.
That nine-minute difference, Scullin tells Psychology Today, is comparable to the difference seen in recent clinical trials for pharmaceutical sleep aids. He continues:
“This seems to be a quick little thing people can do in the evening not to fall asleep in two minutes, but to fall asleep faster than they probably would have otherwise.”
For more tips, check out “16 Affordable Ways to Ensure You Sleep Like a Baby.”
What’s your take on this study’s findings? Would you try spending five minutes writing a to-do list before bed? Let us know by commenting below or on .