Want better sleep – Write a to-do list

by Komal Narwani published on -

Instead of popping a pill, start writing your to-dos before bed and get that sound sleep.

Writing a very specific to-do list for 5 min at bedtime rather than just randomly journaling about completed activities helps you sleep faster, says a study published in American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology. [1]

“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 the lead author of the study Michael K. Scullin, director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory. “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 night time difficulties with falling asleep.” [2]


Researchers compared sleep patterns of more than 50 healthy young adults who were university students participating in the study. The students were divided into two groups randomly and were giving 5 minutes writing assignments before bedtime. The study was performed on weeknights so that they had enough to think about the tasks for the week. Weekends were left for relaxing.

The experimental group was asked to write about the activities or tasks that they needed to do in near-future, which is basically their to-dos. The other group was given a journaling task, which is basically writing about things that they had done in the previous few days. There were no external factors like technology, homework, etc. that could influence the participants. Right after the sessions, the lights were turned off and their brain activities were tracked. The results of sleep measurement showed that the experimental group dozed off on an average 9 minutes faster compared to the other group.

“There are two schools of thought about this,” Scullin said. “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.”

According to the results of the study, the alternate hypothesis mentioned by Scullin works. The brain is relaxed when you write down all that needs to be done and free up your memory space, ultimately, guiding you to sound sleep.

Researchers think that there is a lot more to explore in this area of study by increasing the sampling size, changing the environment and considering the demographics. However, there are now some statists to show that writing your to-dos right before bedtime could help you sleep faster.

Did you already have a pen and paper beside your bed ready?

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About the Author

An alumnus of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Komal is a quirky writer. She loves to add a touch of creativity to everything she does. She has a diverse background in teaching biology, working as an analyst, and freelancing as a content writer. There are only two ways she can express herself, first is words and second is dance.

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