Alaska Sleep Education Center

Why Writing a To-Do List Can Improve Your Sleep

Posted by Jessica Fender on Jun 28, 2021 1:43:00 AM

Keeping a to do list is essential

To-do lists are commonly associated with productivity, motivation, and getting organized. However, the benefits of to-do lists don't end there. Writing to-do lists has yet another positive effect – improving your sleep.

As unusual as it may seem at first, putting down on paper what awaits you the next day can be a tool for limiting sleepless nights. This is not a myth or assumption. A study published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology has shown that writing to-do lists helped the participants fall asleep faster.

If you are curious about how writing about your upcoming tasks can affect your sleep quality, keep reading. Here are the 4 key reasons why to-do lists can put you to sleep.

 

1. Offload Your Mind

How many times have you lied in bed at night troubled by what you have to do tomorrow? Before we set off to the land of dreams, we often do a mental check of our responsibilities for the next day. The reason why this happens is that we try to assure that we don’t forget anything.

To-do lists can take away this burden of listing through your obligations in your mind. That burden can be transferred onto paper. The fact that you’ve created a written reminder for tomorrow will free your mind.

Michael Scullin and one of the authors of the previously mentioned study and the director of Baylor's Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory explained the power of to-do lists:

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. 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.

Thinking about what you have to do tomorrow can put your mind in a running wheel. A certain way to remove this sleeping obstacle is to take a pen and paper and start writing.

 

2. Get Rid of Stress and Anxiety

Writing to-do lists can help you relieve both anxiety and stress. If you can’t shake off the accumulated stress, give to-do lists a chance.

The connection between mental health and writing is proven a long time ago. The simple act of writing is a sort of mindfulness exercise. As you write, you must focus on the task at hand, blocking out all the outside distractions and loud thoughts.

Being present and putting mental effort into creating a to-do list can help with stress and anxiety. Not to mention that the mindfulness aspect of writing teamed up with offloading your mind can be a magical duo.

 

3. Build a Nighttime Routine

Routines benefit our mental and physical health. They eliminate uncertainty, save our energy, and implement a sense of structure in our lives. However, you must imbed good habits in a routine for it to be beneficial. One of those good habits can be writing to-do lists.

If your current nighttime routine consists of endlessly scrolling through your social media feed, consider making a change. Switch that up for to-do lists.

With its beneficial qualities, to-do lists can ensure that you don’t do anything that lessens your sleep quality right before bed.

What’s more, your mind and body will get used to the habit of going to sleep after writing. Thus, with time, you will be able to fall asleep faster. When the list is finished, your mind will automatically prepare for the next task at hand, which is relaxing and sleeping.

 

4. Feel More In Control

One of the most famous characteristics of to-do lists is getting organized. The overview of your responsibilities allows you to prioritize and plan how you'll handle them. When you successfully manage your time, you will feel more accomplished. That feeling of accomplishment and security will help you sleep more profoundly.

Let’s take for example a college student who needs to prepare for college admission. If he starts thinking about how he must contact admission services help tomorrow, study, ask for a letter of recommendation, and so on, he will feel overwhelmed. However, jotting all of this down will give him control. He will have a clear plan which eliminates insecurity.

When you overthink about how you'll manage it all, you won't be able to fall asleep. Even if you do, your sleep quality will be disrupted by the built-up tensions.

To-do lists can be your solution to this issue. They will give you a sense of control, making you more relaxed and less stressed.

 

Tips for Writing To-Do Lists

If writing to-do lists is a novelty to you, no worries. It is a simple activity that you can get used to in no time.

To get you started, here are a few tips that will help you write to-do lists effectively:

●        Use pen and paper

There are many great to-do list apps. However, it’s better to keep it old school. The reason is that the blue light from the phone suppresses the release of melatonin. This is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. So, staring at the phone when trying to sleep can have negative consequences.

A more suitable option for writing to-do lists at nighttime is using pen and paper. Having a journal or notebook that showcases your past daily accomplishment can also be a great self-confidence booster.

●        Take it one day at a time

Try to limit your plans to the following day. If you start making long-term to-do lists, you can get carried away. While you are coming up with future goals, your thoughts can take a wrong turn and prolong this bedtime routine.

The best approach to writing to-do lists that aid your sleeping habit is to keep them focused on the next day. There is only so much you can do in a day, so the writing process won’t take much of your time.

●        Be specific

Vaguely referring to your responsibilities won’t be very helpful. Your mind will still be burdened with the details. The only way to make to-do lists effective is to address specifics.

Instead of writing “do chores” break it down to objectives such as “declutter the living room," "clean the fridge," etc. The more specific the objectives are, in control you'll feel. Every time you cross an item from the list, you'll gain a feeling of accomplishment.

●        Keep it real

You want to be realistic when writing to-do lists. Otherwise, you can only start stressing even more about how you’ll do it all.

Objectively assess what you can finish in a day. If you can’t manage it all, accept that you need to adapt to the situation. The fact that you are at peace with what you can and can’t do will also teach you to have patience and stress less.

 

Final Thoughts

Something simple and easy as writing to-do lists can completely shift your sleep quality. When you think about, with so many positive aspects of to-do lists, you have nothing to lose. Test out how writing down your obligations affects your sleep. You can be on a path to a final solution for all that tossing and turning.  You can also keep a sleep diary.

What is a Sleep Diary?

A sleep diary is a record of a patient's sleep patterns and habits that can be extremely useful in helping doctors make a diagnosis of a sleep disorder and better determine if a sleep study should be prescribed.

2sleep_diary-200Over the course of at least two weeks, patients record information such as:

  • What time the patient went to bed

  • The amount of time it took to fall asleep

  • What time the patient left the bed in the morning

  • Number of times patient awoke during the night

  • How refreshing overall sleep was

  • What may have disturbed the patient's sleep (breathing troubles, leg movements, insomnia, etc.)

  • Number of caffeinated beverages consumed throughout the day

  • Number of alcoholic beverages consumed throughout the day

  • Medications taken during the day

  • Time spend exercising

  • Activities performed within an hour of bed

You can get a free copy of a sleep diary by clicking the link below.

Download The Sleep Diary

Topics: relax, journal, sleep diary

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