Connection Between Writing and Sleep

A new study (link is external) in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests an easy an effective solution: Write in a journal for five minutes before bed. But critically, what helps most is not writing about what you accomplished during the day, but writing out your to-do list for tomorrow.

In the study of 57 young adults, scientists from Baylor University and Emory University found that writing to-do lists rather than writing about completed tasks helped people fall asleep an average of nine minutes faster—in about 16 minutes versus 25. That’s an effect size that’s comparable to recent pharmaceutical clinical trials in which people taking sleep aids have fallen asleep nine to ten minutes faster than usual, says lead author Michael Scullin (link is external), a psychological scientist and sleep researcher at Baylor. “This seems to be a quick little thing people can do in the evening not to fall asleep in two minutes, but to fall asleep faster than they probably would have otherwise.”

Previous research has connected writing and lessening of anxiety, and even writing and better sleep, but Scullin’s is the first study to use the gold standard of sleep measurement, EEG, to determine exactly how much faster people fall asleep. And it’s the first to specify the content of the writing.