Waco: Sleep study produces surprising finding

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) A Baylor researcher looking for ways to help others get a better night’s rest made a surprising discovery.

Dr. Michael Scullin. (Baylor University photo)

Making a to-do list just before you hit the sack will let you sleep a little easier.

“What we found is that if you wrote out your to-do list on average you fell asleep nine minutes faster,” said Dr. Michael Scullin, director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and professor of phycology and neuroscience.

“That’s clinically significant.”

Scullin monitored 57 healthy adults, ages 18 to 30, overnight in a lab asking half of the participants to write down all they had accomplished in the last few days, and the other half to write down what they planned to do.

Those who made their to-do lists ended up falling asleep nine minutes faster, a result that's considered good even as a result of prescription sleep aids.

While Scullin says it may be a surprising finding, it's in line with research about the benefits of writing.

“What you see is if you look at psychological literature the act of writing out whatever you’re worried about, it helps to offload those thoughts,” Scullin said.

“Part of it is saying ‘I don’t have to worry about it because it’s on paper. And so I’ll remember it.‘ And there is something about writing everything you’re worried about down. You get about halfway down and you realize it’s not so bad.”

Scullin said those that wrote a more thorough list got even more sleep.

“So if you wrote out maybe 10 items on your to-do list those individuals fell asleep 15 minutes faster.”

For best results Scullin says try making out your list a few minutes before bedtime and avoid using your cell phone while making the list.

“The problem is the light that’s emitted from your phone actually tells your brain to decrease its melatonin which is a hormone that helps us feel sleepy at night.”

Scullin says this do-it-yourself tip isn’t best for those with clinical sleep disorders but can help the 40 percent of Americans who struggle a few days out of the month with catching some shut-eye.