There are many things you can do to get a more restful and restorative sleep every night. There’s avoiding sugar-rich food and caffeine, giving yourself a relaxing massage and practicing a bedtime routine. Sleep experts also suggest assessing the current state of your mattress and replacing it with a new one if it has become too uncomfortable for you.
Here’s another activity you can do to help you drift off to sleep faster: making a to-do list.
Now, it may sound like you’re gearing yourself for an anxiety attack, but recent studies have found that writing down what you need to do in the next few days can actually help send you to dreamland more quickly. A few extra minutes of sleep is a welcome change for those who may be sleep-deprived, plus making a list of tasks does help in keeping you focused throughout the week.
Researchers from Baylor University’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory conducted a study in which they tasked university students to complete a 5-minute writing assignment before undergoing an overnight sleep study.
Participants were randomly assigned to either write about what they needed to remember to do in order to complete a task in the following days or list down the tasks they have completed in the previous days. The researchers found that those who wrote a to-do list were able to fall asleep 9 minutes faster than those who listed down what they have accomplished.
The researchers also found that participants who wrote longer, more specific lists of things to do were able to drift off to sleep more quickly that others who only wrote short lists of general tasks.
How it works
Michael Scullin, who teaches neuroscience and psychology at Baylor and is the director of the university’s sleep lab, said that we live in a continually busy culture in which the number of things we need to do keeps growing by the minute.
Scullin, the study’s lead author, said that most people simply run through their to-do lists in their heads. As a result, we tend to worry about unfinished tasks, especially during bedtime. For their research, they explored whether the act of writing a to-do list could be good for easing our way into sleep.
According to Scullin, there are two hypotheses about writing tasks – completed or otherwise – before bedtime. The first is the commonly held belief that journaling about what you have accomplished for the day brings you a sense of peace and that writing about what still needs to be done can lead to worry, delaying sleep.
Scullin and his colleagues worked with the alternative hypothesis – that making a to-do list before bed will reduce the thoughts that have been buzzing around in our heads and make us worry about the future less. This act of offloading what’s in one’s mind by writing it down can greatly help in putting you in a more relaxed state and keep anxiety at bay.
Make it work for you
You can try this yourself. According to the researchers, for best results, you should make your to-do list as specific as possible. What exactly do you need to remember so you can complete a specific task? Write your to-do list the old-fashioned way – using a pen or pencil and a piece of paper.
Observe your sleep pattern over the next few days to see if there’s any improvement. If you still find difficulty falling asleep, the researchers recommend consulting your primary care physician or a sleep specialist.