The Effects of Bedtime Writing on Difficulty Falling Asleep: A Polysomnographic Study Comparing To-Do Lists and Completed Activity Lists

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Abstract

Bedtime worry, including worrying about incomplete future tasks, is a significant contributor to difficulty falling asleep. Previous research showed that writing about one’s worries can help individuals fall asleep. We investigated whether the temporal focus of bedtime writing—writing a to-do list versus journaling about completed activities—affected sleep onset latency. Fifty-seven healthy young adults (18–30) completed a writing assignment for 5 min prior to overnight polysomnography recording in a controlled sleep laboratory. They were randomly assigned to write about tasks that they needed to remember to complete the next few days (to-do list) or about tasks they had completed the previous few days (completed list). Participants in the to-do list condition fell asleep significantly faster than those in the completed-list condition. 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. Therefore, to facilitate falling asleep, individuals may derive benefit from writing a very specific to-do list for 5 min at bedtime rather than journaling about completed activities.

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