The findings from a new study suggest that writing a “to-do” list before bedtime could be one way to help those struggling to sleep drop off more quickly.
Led by Michael K. Scullin at Baylor University, the new research examines anecdotal evidence which suggests that writing a list before bed can be helpful as it “offloads” any worries about unfinished tasks which could delay sleep.
Scullin and the team recruited 57 university students for the study and asked them to spend one weeknight sleeping in a controlled environment at Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory.
The researchers divided participants into two randomly selected groups and gave each a writing task to do before their bedtime.
One group was asked to write down everything they needed to remember to do the next day or over the next few days, while the other was asked to write about tasks they had already completed during the previous few days.
Technology or work, which could negatively affect participants’ sleep, were both prohibited.
The team then used overnight polysomnography, considered the “gold standard” of sleep measurement, to monitor electrical brain activity using electrodes.
The results showed that participants who wrote a to-do list fell asleep significantly faster than those who wrote a list of completed activities.
In addition, the more specifically participants wrote their to-do list, the faster they fell asleep. However, the opposite was found for participants who wrote about their completed activities.
The findings could now be of benefit to many Americans struggling to get enough shut-eye, with the National Sleep Foundation reporting that 40% of American adults report difficulty falling asleep at least a few times each month.
Scullin also added that although the sample size was sufficient for the experimental, lab-based polysomnography study, further research with larger sample sizes would be beneficial.
“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,” he explained.
“We recruited healthy young adults, and so we don’t know whether our findings would generalise to patients with insomnia, though some writing activities have previously been suggested to benefit such patients.”
The findings also follow the recent trend for bullet journals, a journaling system created to help users organise their to-do lists and lives in a more mindful and creative way. Fans of bullet journals credit the method with helping to increase creativity and productivity as well as reduce stress and anxiety, which could in turn help promote a more restful night’s sleep.