Can’t Sleep? Don’t Count Sheep—make a To-do List.

Man writing notes on computer
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Getting a good night’s sleep is certainly one of the best ways to keep yourself healthy and in good shape, but more than 30% of Americans don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of slumber a night, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A lot of people miss out on optimum sleep because they can’t doze off quickly and find themselves tossing and turning before finally getting some shuteye.

But instead of relying on medication or mediation to fall asleep fast, try jotting down what you need to get accomplished the next day at bedtime, says a new study from Baylor University.

“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,” said study lead Michael K. Scullin, Ph.D., director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience. “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.”

To test their idea, researchers gathered up 57 college students and then divided them into two groups: one that had to write down what they need to get done the next day or few days, and another group that wrote down what they had already accomplished in the preceding days. Both had five minutes to do the assignment, and then were put in a controlled environment and told they could go to bed at 10:30 p.m.—distractions like technology and homework were forbidden.

The findings: “Participants in the to-do list condition fell asleep significantly faster than those in the completed-list condition,” the authors noted. “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.”

And in case you’re one of those I’ll-sleep-when-I’m-dead types of people, here’s a reminder about why sleep deprivation is definitely a bad idea.

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