The Sleep Journal - writing things down can help you sleep

It’s proven that committing ourselves to paper is so effective in creating real change in our lives. It makes you more committed, helps you think big, gives you a record of the past helps you gain a sense of achievement and to process your emotions. A study by Baylor University showed that the simple task of writing a to do list before going to sleep, may help falling asleep.

The study was conducted in Baylor's Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory, included 57 university students and was published in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology.

"There are two schools of thought about this," according to Michael K. Scullin, Ph.D., director of Baylor's Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience. "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," he said.

The study involved staying overnight in the lab on a week night to avoid weekend effects on bedtime and because on a weekday night, people are likely to have unfinished tasks to do the next day. Participants were divided into two groups and given five-minute writing assignments before going to bed.

The first group was asked to write down everything they needed to remember to do the next day or over the next few days. The other group was asked to write about tasks completed during the previous few days.

They were instructed to go to bed at 1030pm, with lights out at that time and technology and homework restricted beforehand. The study used polysomnography, ( the gold standard of sleep measurement) where researchers monitor electrical brain activity using electrodes on participants and showed that the group who wrote down their to-do list before bed fell asleep significantly faster than the other group.  The more specifically they wrote their to-do lists, the faster they fell asleep. The opposite was true for the group who wrote about completed activities.

So there you have it. Writing down your to-do list before bedtime is a worthwhile evening ritual before bedtime which can result in less worry and falling asleep faster.

Try our Sleep Journal with a dedicated daily Thoughts and To-Dos section to do a good old brain dump before bedtime.

*Study Reference:  Michael K. Scullin, Madison L. Krueger, Hannah K. Ballard, Natalya Pruett, Donald L. Bliwise. The effects of bedtime writing on difficulty falling asleep: A polysomnographic study comparing to-do lists and completed activity lists.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 2018; 147 (1): 139

June 14, 2021 — Anne Marie Boyhan
Tags: bed sleep writing