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Feature article

Can't sleep? Time to write your to-do list

Good news for those of us who can't make it through a day without making lists, especially if we also happen to have trouble falling asleep at night. It turns out that to-do lists may be the answer to some of our troubles, at least.

Do you like lists? Do you spend half an hour each morning writing down your tasks for the day ahead in bullet-points? Do you sometimes have trouble falling asleep at night?

If your answer to all of those is "yes," then there is good news for you. You may be able to achieve that sweet night's sleep much faster if you start writing your to-do lists just before bed, instead of first thing in the morning.

Researchers from Baylor University in Waco, TX, set out to investigate whether writing down all the tasks that we have to finish over the next day or two could help us to achieve a more peaceful state of mind, conducive to falling asleep more easily.
To Do List Thumb
"We live in a 24/7 culture,"  says Michael Scullin, the chief researcher, "in which our to-do lists seem to be constantly growing and causing us to worry about unfinished tasks at bedtime. 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 night-time difficulties with falling asleep."

Writing down a to-do list detailing outstanding tasks helped the participants who engaged in this exercise to fall asleep more quickly.

The same was not true for their counterparts in the control group, who just listed tasks that they had completed that day or in the previous days.

To write a useful to-do list, you may want to list not only what you intend to do, but also when and how long you anticipate it taking you. That’s especially important when the list is not only for the next day, but for projects further in the future.  And then, when you are done with the task, cross it out or check it off: Done and out of mind!

Clinical experience tells us that there is another positive aspect to writing a to-do list the evening before: it “primes” your brain to the task and adds to your commitment to it. You are much less likely to procrastinate on a task that you committed yourself to doing the night before than a chore you thought about as one you “need” or “should” do. To really commit yourself to the task, think in terms of :”I will do this first thing tomorrow morning when I get to work.’ or “I’ll get up at 8 this Saturday and get that project going by 8:30”. Here,  as demonstrated in the  research study, re-committing yourself to the task the night before will confirm your resolve and possibly help you sleep better.


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