Previous studies have found that writing down one’s worries can reduce stress, but these researchers wanted to test whether noting future tasks could also help.
Their study – published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology – examined 57 young adults, half of which were assigned write down a to-do list in the five minutes prior to falling asleep, the other half of which wrote down the tasks they had completed in the previous few days.
They discovered that participants who wrote a to-do list fell asleep significantly faster than those who wrote a completed-list. In fact, the more specifically participants wrote their to-do list, the faster they subsequently fell asleep, whereas the opposite trend was observed when participants wrote about completed activities.
“We think that when people offload everything in their mind that might be hard to remember otherwise, it gives them some relief from that rumination,” lead author Michael Scullin, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, told Time.
“It seems to be the act of writing it out that’s the key ingredient,” he added.