Research conducted recently on the effects of spending just 5 minutes before bed-time writing down a ‘to-do’ list for the next few days has revealed that this simple strategy works to send us off to sleep faster. A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology has shown that this clarifying of your tasks ahead, actually allows you to slip into sleep sooner. Lying in your bed with the ‘list’ ticking over in your head, it seems, is just not enough. You must take that 5 minutes to write it down.
Fifty-seven research subjects at Baylor University had to complete a writing assignment for five minutes before bed. One half of the subjects had to write a list of tasks they had to do in the upcoming days; the other half wrote about activities they’d already undertaken. The results showed that those who wrote about future activities fell asleep noticeably faster than those who just described things they’d already completed. The more specific the writers could be about their future jobs, the faster they dozed off.
“One of the biggest barriers to falling asleep for people is that we have thoughts circling around in our heads when we turn out the lights,” says Michael K. Scullin, Ph.D., the study’s author and an assistant professor at Baylor. “These thought processes work in opposition to relaxing and falling asleep.”
Dr Scullin also noted that although it might seem intuitive to expect you’d worry more about all you have to do after you’ve written it down, the reverse is the case. It’s as thought you have ‘offloaded’ your troubles and you can settle down to sleep much more free of anxiety than if you hadn’t written it all down. The findings of the Baylor University study have been confirmed by a few decades of earlier studies which have found that this ‘offloading’ to paper can reduce anxiousness and worrying.
It seems that having everything that is likely to be causing our worry gathered into a succinct list lets us drift off to sleep knowing that we have a plan of attack for those pesky or worrisome tasks already at hand for the next day. (Read: All the Ways a Worry Journal Could Make Your Life Better)
The even better news is that 5 minutes seems to be the optimum time required to achieve results – not a very big chunk out of your evening routine to help ensure maximum benefit from your night’s sleep. Keeping to the time limit stops us over-thinking things and forces us to really clarify our tasks.