If you toss and turn in bed each night, you’re not alone. One-in-four of Americans struggles to get to sleep or stay asleep, according to pollsters, and the CDC claims an equally large percentage of us fail to get even six hours of sleep a night. No wonder we collectively spend something like $45 billion in sleep aids each year.
If you’re among the great many Americans who shell out for pills and gadgets to try and get a good night’s sleep, a new study has a suggestion for you. Before you stumble off to the pharmacy, try a dead simple home remedy first. It’s known as the humble to-do list.
A productivity aid that’s great for your sleep too.
You’re no doubt already familiar with the to-do list. In fact, you probably use one regularly to make sure you don’t forget tasks and deadlines. But what does this common as dirt productivity tool have to do with sleep? Quite a lot, a new study from Michael Scullin of Baylor University suggests.
The research had a simple set-up: invite 57 volunteers with no history of serious insomnia into a sleep lab and ask them to one of two things before settling in for the night. Half were asked to do a bit of traditional journaling, recording the events of the day and reflecting on them. The other half penned a standard to-do list.
Which worked better to send people off to dreamland quicker, written reflection or a brain dump of outstanding tasks?
Objective observations of brain waves showed that those who offloaded their outstanding responsibilities to paper fell asleep 10 minutes faster than those who simply mused on their day’s accomplishments, drifting off in a relatively speedy 15 minutes. And the more detailed the to-do list, the faster people fell people.
Why? The researchers think that committing undone tasks to paper relieves the burden on your brain, hastening sleep. “Rather than journal about the day’s completed tasks or process tomorrow’s to-do list in one’s mind, the current experiment suggests that individuals spend five minutes near bedtime thoroughly writing a to-do list,” they conclude.
Crafting the perfect nighttime routine
Now, there are good reasons why you might want to hold on to your old journaling practice. Expressive writing has been shown to unlock creativity and soothe stress. But if these results from an admittedly small study hold up, if you main concern is maximizing shut-eye, you should probably switch over to a to-do list before bed. And hey, not only will it help you get to sleep more quickly, it will also set you up for a productive day ahead — a double win.
Also, jotting down your to-do list is just one component of a healthy bedtime routine. If you slurp caffeine all day, keep a crazy schedule, or stay up to all hours staring at brightly lit screens, pen and paper will not act as a miracle insomnia cure. Common sense suggests that while a to-do list will help you shutdown your busy brain for the night, you need to combine this trick with basic sleep hygiene.