It always happens: you lay your head on the pillow, close your eyes, and all of a sudden, your brain starts talking to you. “Ugh, I don’t want to have that conversation with my boss tomorrow. I really need to go grocery shopping. Did I forget to call Mom back?” Why does it choose just this moment to start thinking about everything it’s worried about? Luckily, there’s a way to overcome this tendency — and it’s backed by research.
If you maintain a packed schedule, bedtime is often the only moment you get to really think about your life. The obvious answer, it seems, is to think about the things weighing on you before you actually try to sleep. In a recent study, researchers from Baylor University had participants try doing exactly that to see if it helped them fall asleep faster.
57 volunteers, most in their twenties, reported to a sleep lab where they were hooked up to equipment to measure their brain waves. Before bedtime, they were asked to do a writing exercise. The researchers told half of the participants to spend five minutes “writing about everything you have to remember to do tomorrow and over the next few days,” and the other half to spend five minutes writing about what they’d done that day and earlier.
While you might think that writing a to-do list would make you more anxious, not less, that’s not what the researchers found. The people who wrote a to-do list fell asleep 10 minutes faster than the other group — in about 15 minutes, on average.
This makes sense, since previous research has repeatedly shown the benefits of writing things down. A 2014 study showed that for people who generally express their emotions, writing about a stressful or traumatic event helped reduce anxiety. Another study from the same year showed that students understand class material more fully when they write notes down, rather than typing them out. Likewise, many people swear by writing “morning pages” to clear their minds at the start of every day. There’s a real benefit to putting your fleeting thoughts down on paper, both for your mental health and your productivity overall.
Have your good rest.
Check out my related post: Can you learn to control your dreams?