Research from Baylor University in Texas, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, compared the benefits of writing a to-do list with writing a "done" list (of things the participants had already achieved) in helping people fall asleep, and the results were eye-opening.
The 57 participants, aged 18-30, were split into two groups, with half of them asked to spend five minutes “writing about everything you have to remember to do tomorrow and over the next few days” and the remaining volunteers writing about the tasks they'd already completed that day and during the previous few days.
Those in the to-do list group fell asleep after about 10 minutes, compared with 25 minutes for those in the "done" list group. What's more, the more specific the "to do" lists were, the quicker the volunteers fell asleep, suggesting that it's helpful to transfer your worries about incomplete tasks and future commitments onto paper.
However, none of the participants had any sleep problems such as insomnia, so further research would need to be carried out to see if the trick could be used in treating disordered sleeping.
The researchers' conclusion? “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."
If you have trouble sleeping, then, it may be worth swapping your "Dear Diary" entries for a more prosaic, bullet-point list of the boring admin you've been putting off (which, now that we come to think of it, would definitely send us to sleep).
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