Is Faster Sleep Possible By Keeping a To Do List?

man sleeping bed

Keeping a to-do list may help you with your Z’s. We talk to mental health experts

Do you struggle to fall asleep at night? When your head hits the pillow, is it hard to turn your brain off? Looking for a natural remedy?

According to a new line of research released in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, people who created a list of future tasks fell asleep faster than those who journaled about the day’s activities.

Psychologists have known for years that journaling helps to  reduce stress levels and promote calmness. But investigators at Baylor University wanted to know if jotting down future focused activities, such as tasks, might help people sleep better.

To test their hypothesis, they recruited 57-adults between the ages of 18-30. The participants slept in an overnight lab where researchers monitored sleep patterns.

As part of the study, half of the participants were asked to bullet point (or write out short paragraphs) everything they needed to remember to do in the next several days.

The other participants were asked to jot down things that they had completed that day or in the recent past.

The results showed that people who were in the “to do” list group fell asleep nine minutes faster than the participants in the completed tasks group.

Additionally, the more specific and concrete the to-do list was, the faster the person nodded off.

man sleeping restfully in bed

Purging of the Mind

Guy Counseling was curious about why to-do lists might help to promote sleep and so we spoke to an expert. Dr. Greg Harms , a licensed psychologist in Chicago thinks the activity of writing out future tasks has a stress purging effect.

“I’m not surprised at the results of this study. When a person writes out something that may be a source of anxiety, it helps them to feel more empowered, says Harms. “In turn, they feel more relaxed.

Current research suggests that 40% of Americans have problems falling asleep a few times a month. The lead investigator from the Baylor study, Michael Scullin, made the following observations about the study’s findings, “It’s a quick and low-cost thing you can easily do for a few days to see if it has any benefit for you.”

Some urge caution about the Baylor results. Frank Moore, a licensed psychotherapist who operates an anxiety clinic in the Windy City suggests that more research needs to be done to generalize conclusions.

“In my experience, anxious people looking to get a good night’s sleep need to do a combination of things. Journaling helps but so does exercise and diet. I’d like to see a larger sample size in future studies – although I acknowledge this does look promising,” says Moore.

He also suggests people talk to their doctor to rule out any medical issues that might be causing sleep disturbances. “Some health conditions can interfere with sleep. It’s best to let your physician know of any irregularities,” Moore said.

Related: Not getting enough sleep linked to anxiety and depression.

About John D. Moore 391 Articles
Dr. John Moore is a licensed counselor and Editor-in-Chief of Guy Counseling. A journalist and blogger, he writes about a variety of topics related to wellness. His interests include technology, outdoor activities, science, and men's health. Check out his show --> The Men's Self Help Podcast