If you can’t fall asleep without counting sheep (doesn’t work) or chugging half a bottle of wine (works too well), here’s one trick that seems worth a shot: writing a to-do list.
Researchers at Baylor University in Texas conducted a study that had 57 healthy participants between the ages of 19 to 30 spend the night at a sleep lab. They gave all of the subjects a five-minute writing assignment before hitting the sack.
Half of them were asked to write about the things they needed to do over the next few days (to-do list), while the other were asked to write about the things they’d completed over the past few days (completed list).
After gathering data on eye movement and brain wave activity, the researchers found that those who wrote to-do lists before bed fell asleep by an average of nine minutes faster than those who wrote completed lists.
In fact, the more specific the to-do lists, the faster the participants fell asleep. And, interestingly, the more specific the completed lists, the longer the participants took to drift into slumber.
This suggests that bedtime worry, which includes worrying about incomplete future tasks, plays a big role in preventing us from falling asleep easily. Which makes sense — because when we have things to worry about, we often spend more time tossing and turning in bed.
So the next time you find it hard to sleep, try writing that to-do list. And no, just going through it in your head isn’t enough.
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“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,” said lead author Michael Scullin, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University to Time.
“It seems to be the act of writing it out that’s the key ingredient.”
The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and you can find out more here.
Image: Leung Cho Pan/123RF.com