Can Writing A To-Do List Help You Fall Asleep?

Insomnia and other sleep issues are a common complaint from millions of Americans every year. This makes sense, of course, as stress levels are at an all-time high: longer work days and higher rents leave little time and money for personal well-being, including sleep.

But it turns out that getting to sleep might be a little easier than most of us realize.  According to a new study, people who write to-do lists tend to fall asleep roughly nine minutes faster than those who write about completed tasks.  In addition, those who write longer and more detailed/specific to lists fall asleep faster than those who write shorter, general lists.

Lead study author Michael Scullin, PhD comments, “We think that when people offload everything in their mind that might be hard to remember otherwise, it gives them some relief from that rumination.”  The Baylor University assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University adds that when people are asked only to think about what they have to do tomorrow, they would have even more trouble falling asleep. Indeed, he continues, “It seems to be the act of writing it out that’s the key ingredient.”

In all, this was quite a pleasant surprise to Scullin: the act of writing things down, particularly when it was a lot of items can help you fall asleep.  “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,” he says. The Baylor University Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory director goes on to say, “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.”

Now, of course, nine minutes of extra sleep might not seem like much but it is actually comparable to the improvement we can see in clinical trials for some prescription sleep medications.  Appropriately, Scullin adds, “It’s not insignificant. Getting nine extra minutes of sleep every night can actually make a real difference.”

And for the 40 percent of Americans who consistently have trouble falling asleep, even a few times a month, Scullin advises this is definitely a strategy worth investigating and trying.   He notes, “It’s a quick and low-cost thing you can easily do for a few days to see if it has any benefit for you.”  And if this does not work, of course, then you might want to seek the help of a doctor or specialist.

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