Want to Sleep Better? Do This Five-Minute Activity Before Bed

While everyone has their little tricks for combating insomnia (think relaxing yoga, guided meditation or lavender oil spritzes), a recent study has found that the easiest way to nod off fast is to write a to-do list before bed.

This assertion comes from research conducted at Baylor University, which concluded that taking as little as five minutes to craft a to-do list of upcoming tasks greatly affected how quickly study participants fell asleep.

“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,” explained lead author Dr. Michael K. Scullin. “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.”

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In this exploration, Scullin and his team examined the nighttime habits of 57 Baylor University students over the course of a week in the school’s sleeping lab. Before going to bed, the undergraduates were divided into two randomly selected groups: one assigned to write down everything they needed to do in the upcoming day and the other to write about everything they’d done in the past day.

Trouble falling asleep? Check out our definitive guide to getting a better night’s rest

As they attempted to get some shut-eye after finishing these writing assignments, the participants were monitored using polysomnography, a multi-parametric test common to sleep studies that tracks brain-wave activity, blood oxygen levels, eye movement and heart rate.

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“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.”

What researchers found was that, on average, those participants who wrote a to-do list for the upcoming day fell asleep nine minutes faster than those who wrote about things they’d already done. They also learned that those individuals who added even more detail to their to-do lists fell asleep 15 minutes faster than both groups.

Though nine or 15 minutes may not seem like a lot, experts have found time and time again that every bit helps in the fight against sleeplessness. Most recently, researchers at Oakland University discovered that spending even just a few minutes doing a fun activity after work helped individuals fend off insomnia.

Cody Gohl

Cody is a former staff editor at Sleepopolis. His work has appeared online for Esquire, Next, LOGO TV, Fandom, Citylife, The Manual, and more.

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