Get the latest from TODAY
If you spend most nights unable to sleep because you're thinking of all the things you have to do the next day, listen up. There might be a simple solution: Write them down.
"The main problem with falling asleep is that we get into bed and our mind doesn't turn off," lead researcher Michael Scullin, director of the Sleep Neuroscience and Cognitive Laboratory at Baylor University, told TODAY. "It seems like more and more, what's on people's minds at night is what they've got to do the next day."
Researchers looked at 57 participants split into two groups: one that spent five minutes writing down tasks that they had recently accomplished, and another that spent five minutes writing down unfinished tasks. In other words, a to-do list for the next day or so. Researchers measured their sleep overnight.
Previous research has shown that the physical act of writing can have positive psychological effects, but does it matter what people write if their goal is a good night’s sleep? Yes, it turns out. Participants who wrote a to-do list fell asleep faster — and the longer and more specific the tasks on the to-do list were, the better.
Participants who wrote to-do lists fell asleep, on average, about nine minutes faster than those who wrote lists of accomplished tasks.
In a way, the findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, were surprising.
"(We wondered), what if writing about future activities causes you focus on them more and realize what you haven't done, and then it snowballs?" Scullin said. "So in a sense, we didn't know which way it was going to go. But you run the study and it comes out very clearly that writing a to-do list helps you fall asleep faster."
Researchers hypothesized that people who wrote to-do lists were able to "off-load" their worries by writing them down, and thus, sleep easier. The participants in the study were between the ages of 18 and 30 and did not have sleep problems, but Scullin suspects many people outside of that population can benefit from this simple nighttime task. At the very least, it can't hurt.
"All you have to gain is a little more sleep, and we could all use a little more sleep," Scullin said.
For more helpful advice, sign up for our One Small Thing newsletter.