Can't Sleep? Try Making a To-Do List

pen and paper

Trouble sleeping? Maybe you should write a to-do list. And no, it shouldn’t start with “Go to sleep.” Researchers at Baylor University hypothesized that creating a to-do list of things one needs to accomplish in the coming days or weeks might serve to “offload” anxiety about completing those tasks, and help you get to sleep.

Led by Michael K. Scullin, Director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory, researchers divided 57 college students 18- to 30-years-old into two random groups and had each sleep overnight in the lab. Five minutes before bedtime, one group made a list of things to do in the coming days or weeks, while the other made a list of tasks that had already been accomplished. Results? The to-do list group fell asleep 10 minutes sooner than the completed-tasks group.

Students in the study were instructed to make their lists, and then turn out the lights. No electronic devices, which can emit sleep-killing blue light, were permitted. Using polysomnography, researchers attached electrodes to the students, to monitor students’ sleep stages and cycles. Findings were published recently in the Journal of Experimental Psychology

Scullin suggests future studies should include a larger number of subjects, who are more diverse in terms of age and sleep challenges. Will the to-do list approach prove beneficial to older subjects, or those who suffer from insomnia or other sleep- or health-related issues? That, of course, remains to be seen, but if you have trouble falling asleep at night, try making a to-do list. It might just allay that nighttime anxiety about all the things you must get done tomorrow, and help you sleep better.

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