Stress and anxiety have become a part of our manic world. Or maybe, that stress is a result of our 24/7 world? Whether it’s just a natural part of, or a direct result of, people increasingly feel pulled in too many directions. Is there anything we can do?
The answer is yes. Researchers at Baylor University conducted an experiment to see if making a “to-do” list would help people get a better night’s sleep.
Baylor split 57 university students into two groups: One test group was asked to spend 5 minutes writing down important things they needed to remember/do for the next day or over the next few days (a proactive to-do list). The second group was told to spend 5 minutes writing down things they had already completed from the previous day (journaling their completed tasks). All study participants were instructed to go to bed right after those five-minute writing assignments.
Study leader Michael K. Scullin and his colleagues then analyzed the results and concluded that those students who wrote a proactive to-do list, fell asleep an average of 9 minutes sooner than those study participants who wrote down things they had already completed.
“The more specifically participants wrote their to-do list, the faster they subsequently fell asleep. The opposite trend was observed when participants wrote about completed activities.” -Baylor University study authors
“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.” – lead study author, Michael K. Scullin.
The study leaders say more research is needed, but are confident that their study results are reliable:
“There are two schools of thought about this. 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.” – Michael K. Scullin.
And there we have it — keeping a to-list helps to alleviate stress, but that list should be written out and not kept in hour head. I’ve been writing to-do lists for years and they’ve always been very helpful– they keep me focused and in control and as a result, I feel less stressed. Give it a try!
Read summary of Baylor’s study on PsychNET