How is it that sometimes you can get into bed feeling absolutely shattered but lie awake for an hour or more, unable to drop off?
We all know that, ideally, we shouldn’t look at our phones, laptops or tablet screens an hour before bed because of the blue light they emit, but realistically, that’s not practical most of the time.
But it turns out there is something you can do before bed to help you fall asleep that only takes five minutes.
It’s incredibly simple too: all you need to do is write a very specific to-do list.
Yes, merely writing down the tasks you need to do tomorrow will help calm your brain and make you relax.
One of the main reasons we lie awake at night is because we’re worrying about things we need to do the next day.
“We live in a 24/7 culture in which our to-do lists seem to be constantly growing and causing us to worry about unfinished tasks at bedtime,” said lead study author Dr Michael K Scullin.
“Most people just cycle through their to-do lists in their heads, and so we wanted to explore whether the act of writing them down could counteract nighttime difficulties with falling asleep.”
According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, spending five minutes writing a to-do list could be all it takes to fall asleep faster.
However the researchers also found that journaling - writing about the things you’ve already done - doesn’t have the same effect.
Some participants in the study were tasked with writing a to-do list, whereas others were asked to write a completed list. And the researchers found that the former group fell asleep “significantly faster” than the latter. (This was measured in a sleep lab where participants’ electrical brain activity was monitored overnight.)
What’s more, the more specific the to-do list, the quicker people fell asleep - the opposite trend was found when participants wrote about completed activities.
The researchers therefore recommend spending five minutes writing a very specific to-do list - rather than journaling - before bed to help you nod off.
“There are two schools of thought about this,” says Dr Scullin. “One is that writing about the future would lead to increased worry about unfinished tasks and delay sleep, while journaling about completed activities should not trigger worry.
“The alternative hypothesis is that writing a to-do list will ‘offload’ those thoughts and reduce worry.”
So if you’re struggling to sleep, simply offload your thoughts about impending tasks on to a piece of paper and enjoy drifting off to slumber in no time.
[This article was originally published in 2018]
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