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Want better sleep? Write a to-do list, study says

Are you a fan of to-do lists? You may be at an advantage, because they could improve your sleep, according to a new report.

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Researchers from Baylor University recently conducted an experiment, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, to determine if bedtime writing can be linked with better sleep.

“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 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.”

To do so, they examined 57 university students, who were split into two groups. While one group was asked to write down everything they needed to remember to do the next day or over the next few days, the other was required to write about completed tasks from previous days. Then all participants were instructed to go to bed right after those five-minute writing sessions.

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After analyzing the results, they found that those who wrote to-do lists fell asleep an average of 9 minutes faster than those who jotted down things they already finished.

"The more specifically participants wrote their to-do list, the faster they subsequently fell asleep," the study authors wrote. "The opposite trend was observed when participants wrote about completed activities."

The scientists noted their study was small and could be improved with more subjects. However, they believe their findings are strong.

“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.” 

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