Science Says Writing Out Those To-Do Lists Could Help You Sleep Better At Night


Calling all “Type A” personalities! We know how much you already love writing out those to-do lists that keep you impeccably organized and leave your brain feeling perfectly decluttered and peaceful. But new research from Baylor University suggests that jotting these notes down just before bedtime could be the key to an even more restful night’s sleep.

In the study, researchers in Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory recruited 57 student participants. Each of the students slept in the lab on a weeknight to best replicate his or her typical sleep conditions, as well as feelings surrounding unfinished midweek work. Before calling it a night, the students were separated into two randomly selected groups: one spent five minutes writing down everything they needed to remember to do within the next few days and one spent five minutes logging all of the tasks they successfully completed in the few days leading up to the study. Researchers then used overnight polysomnography (which is considered the “gold standard” of sleep measurement) to monitor their electrical brain activity as they fell asleep.

All participants were instructed to go to bed at 10:30 p.m. — no messing around on phones, no completing last-minute homework tasks, just pencils down and lights out. Those who wrote a to-do list rather than an already-done list ended up falling asleep significantly faster. And those who journaled about what they had already completed actually experienced an increase in difficulty falling asleep.

Unsplash/Glenn Carstens Peters

“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,” lead author Michael K. Scullin, Ph.D., said in a statement. “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.”

And writing it down seemed to do the trick  — at least for these college students. The sample is obviously limited by both size and demographics, but the team hopes that a larger study will be conducted in the future to account for variances in people with different personalities and people dealing with things like insomnia, anxiety or depression.

In the meantime, you can bet that we’ll be ending the day with a pad of Post-Its and a pen. Anything for a better night’s sleep, right?