healthHealth and Medicine

Writing A To-Do List Before Bed May Help You Fall Asleep Quicker


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

It's only a small study, so this method almost certainly won't work on everyone. But worth a try? Cosmaa/Shutterstock

We don’t need to tell you that getting the optimal amount of sleep is rarely achievable. Perhaps you’re a night owl whose genes will render you permanently unable to adapt to the 9 to 5, or you’re stressed, on medication or otherwise distracted – either way, those 7 hours are usually more like five.

This can cause a wide range of health problems, so any legitimate scientific advice on how to sleep a little better is always good in our books. As noted by a new entry in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, writing a to-do list before bedtime may help you get a little more shuteye.


Spearheaded by Baylor University, a team found that participants who spent five minutes writing about their world domination plans – or whatever they needed to get done – prior to hitting the hay fell asleep “significantly faster” than their list eschewing comrades. Nine minutes faster, as it happens.

The researchers aren’t sure why this happens. Some have suspected that writing about the future before sleep may actually increase worry, especially if tasks needing to be done seemed difficult. Others suggest that by writing these things down, the person is “offloading” the worry to the list.

For the study, 57 healthy university students (aged 18-30) were recruited. They were split into two groups: one that wrote lists of what they had to do in the future, and another that wrote lists about what they had accomplished or finished over the past few days.

Jenn Huls/Shutterstock

All the while, they were trapped in a highly restricted environment involving no homework, technology or any other forms of distraction, and they were sent to bed at a set time.


While sleeping, they were also subjected to polysomnography, which looks at various biological aspects – brain waves, oxygen levels in your blood, respiratory and heart rates, and so on – to see what the quality of sleep was like, and to track exactly when they fell asleep.

On average, that made the aforementioned difference of nine minutes. Weirdly, those that wrote a more detailed to-do list fell asleep faster; those that did the same for their accomplishments list fell asleep slower.

“Therefore, to facilitate falling asleep, individuals may derive benefit from writing a very specific to-do list for 5 minutes at bedtime rather than journaling about completed activities,” the authors of the study concluded. Sorry, fans of daily diaries.

Either way, the set-up of the experiment – and the small population size of healthy young adults – means that you should take these results with a pinch of salt. Until a larger study is done to confirm the results, we’d speculate that list writing won’t work to calm everyone down before sleepy time, particularly those with sleeping disorders. But anything that helps, hey?


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