Work Ahead: Why Creating a To-Do List Before Bed Can Lead to Better Sleep

Focuses on a new study that shows people who write to-do lists are more likely to fall asleep faster than those who do not. This blog explores the relationship between brain and body and how a list can externalize stress and bring about the onset of sleep quickly.

We’ve all been there, lying awake at night, losing out on sleep that we desperately need because we’re too stressed to drift off to dreamland. It feels like a terrible cycle; we are less effective during the day because we didn’t sleep well at night, we don’t sleep well at night because we are worried about performance during the day.

While some people take a sleeping pill, drink alcohol, or generally engage in other activities that are dubbed, “poor sleep hygiene” by sleep professionals, it seems there’s a new way to get your body and mind on the same page so you can get that much needed shut eye: taking a little time before bed to create a to-do list for the next day.

Making a List Makes You Fall Asleep Faster

This new information all comes from a new study put out by Baylor University. In it, they compared the sleep times of those who wrote to-do lists before bed with those who didn’t. On average, the people who wrote the lists fell asleep nine minutes faster than those who did not. Not only that, there’s evidence to suggest that the quality of the list was also a factor, with subjects who wrote the most detailed list falling asleep fifteen minutes faster than the control group. That puts this method ahead of sleeping pills (which on average improve sleep time by about eight to ten minutes), and is enough of a gamechanger in the sleep world that these scientists felt compelled to publish the report. And while journaling may be beneficial to your mental health, scientists say that it isn’t as compelling for sleep as training your brain to focus on the next days activities.

“To facilitate falling asleep, individuals may derive benefit from writing a very specific to-do list for five minutes at bedtime rather than journaling about completed activities,” says Professor Michael Scullin of Baylor University.

Cutting Out the Clutter in Your Head Before Bed

The study posits that this may be an effective technique because it shorts the anxiety of the next day’s challenges by externalizing those problems into a goal-oriented list. So rather than spending a night ruminating on what you’re going to have to do at work tomorrow, you can rest easier knowing that you’ve planned out your day and allow your brain to drift off to sleep better. The relationship between the brain and the body for sleep is a complex one, and it’s still a large subject of scientific research. One thing that is certain: the more you decrease the stress on your brain, the better your body will react.  The study concludes with this:

“Expressive writing has been demonstrated to reduce anxiety and depression, though its impact on sleep onset latency has been a matter of debate, but bedtime worry, including worrying about incomplete future tasks, is a significant contributor to difficulty falling asleep.”

So if you’re worried that you aren’t getting the sleep you need, try writing down a to-do list and seeing if that helps you. It might work better than a sleeping pill, and it definitely won’t leave you feeling groggy in the morning. It’s worth a shot!

 

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