A bedtime 'to-do' list may help you fall asleep

Image 1 of 7

Do you ever feel like your life is just one long to-do list?

Emory Healthcare Internist Dr. Sharon Bergquist sometimes does.

She says our 24/7 lifestyle is hard to turn off when it's time to sleep.

"I think we all have this hidden fear that we're going to drop the ball somehow," Dr. Bergquist says.  "We just tend to keep those to-do lists going in our heads, and going in our heads, out of this fear that we're just going to forget something."

That can make it hard to turn off our thoughts at bedtime.

Bergquist says about 40 percent of her patients either have trouble falling or staying asleep, or both.

But a Baylor University study finds taking five minutes to write down a pre-bedtime "to-do" list may help.

The idea makes sense to Bergquist.

"When you write something down, you know that you have it written," she says. "I think the brain cannot feel that it has to keep it all circulating and circulating. So it's easier to let go, knowing you have this external hard drive that you're attaching to your brain."

In the Baylor study, 57 volunteers were split into two groups.

About five minutes before bedtime, one group made a to-do list of tasks they needed to complete.

The other wrote made a list of tasks already completed.

Researcher the brain activity of both groups in an overnight sleep lab.

They found the "to-do" list group fell asleep faster than the group who listed tasks they'd already accomplished.

But, why?

"The idea is that if you can just take ideas that are just ruminating in your head, put them on paper, it lets your mind go to rest," Bergquist says. "You can put it aside, pick it up the next day."

All of the volunteers went to bed at the same time and were not permitted to do homework or be on their electronic gadgets after 10:30 p.m.

"The other part to this that's very interesting is when you write things on paper, you actually let go of a lot of emotional attachment you have to whatever item you are writing," Bergquist says.

So, can you just whip your phone and type in your to-do list?

Bergquist doesn't recommend it.

"Because you shouldn't have your cellphone in the bedroom at all, let alone, having it near your bed, where it's accessible," she says.  "Because, once you get it out, you'll want to check email."

Which will remind you off all the other things you have to do tomorrow.