Worrying thoughts are one of the biggest contributing factors in those who have difficulties falling asleep. However, according to a study, conducted by researchers at Baylor University, writing a ‘to-do’ list at bedtime may help you fall asleep faster.
The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, analyzed 57 participants, all adults aged 18-30, and took place in Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory. Many sleep experts speculate that writing down unfinished tasks could reduce worry, thus leading to faster sleep onset.
“The alternative hypothesis is that writing a to-do list will ‘offload’ those thoughts and reduce worry,” said Michael Scullin, Ph.D., one of the lead researchers.
Baylor researchers put this hypothesis to the test.
Utilizing overnight polysomnography, the team of researchers examined the participants, frequently monitoring their electrical brain activity. Baylor researchers chose to examine on a weeknight, rather than a weekend, due to a higher probability of unfinished tasks the following day.
Researchers split the participants into two randomly selected groups and assigned them with a five-minute writing exercise. The first group received an assignment of writing down every single task they needed to remember the next day. The other group wrote about finished tasks over the past few days.
After completing the assignments, researchers granted participants the ability to go to bed at 10:30 pm; participants were in a controlled environment, without access to their electronic devices.
The study found that the first group who wrote down unfinished tasks for the following day fell asleep significantly faster.
“Participants in the to-do list condition fell asleep significantly faster than those in the completed-list condition. The more specifically participants wrote their to-do list, the faster they subsequently fell asleep, whereas the opposite trend was observed when participants wrote about completed activities,” according to the findings.
Researchers suggest that writing a to-do list of unfinished tasks for at least five minutes during bedtime may aid in decreasing insomnia.
Needlesstosay, however, researchers believe more research would be beneficial, especially with a larger sample and the measurement of other factors associated with insomnia, such as anxiety, depression, and personality.
“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,” Scullin concluded.