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A five-minute writing exercise could help you fall asleep faster, new study suggests

FILE -- Bunk beds fill a shared dorm-style room that sleep up to six people at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel in Pescadero, Calif., on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. A study published in January 2018 suggests writing to-do lists could potentially help people fall asleep quicker.
FILE -- Bunk beds fill a shared dorm-style room that sleep up to six people at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel in Pescadero, Calif., on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. A study published in January 2018 suggests writing to-do lists could potentially help people fall asleep quicker. Sacramento Bee File

If you’re tired of counting sheep before bed, researchers may have found a better way.

A study published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology concluded that people “may derive benefit from writing a very specific to-do list for 5 min at bedtime.”

Conducted by sleep experts at Baylor University, researchers observed at 57 people aged 18-30 in a controlled setting for one overnight session, according to Live Science. Half were told to write a to-do list for the following day; the other half instead wrote a list of tasks they had recently accomplished.

The study found that to-do list writers fell asleep an average of nine minutes faster than the other group. Additionally, test subjects who wrote more specific to-do lists fell asleep the fastest.

Michael Scullin, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience and the study’s lead author, told Time magazine that the nine-minute difference is roughly the same benefit offered by many prescription sleep medications.

In a statement accompanying his study, Scullin says there are two potential explanations. “One is that writing about the future would lead to increased worry about unfinished tasks and delay sleep, while journaling about completed activities should not trigger worry.

“The alternative hypothesis is that writing a to-do list will ‘offload’ those thoughts and reduce worry.”

The statement also cites a National Sleep Foundation statistic claiming 40 percent of U.S. adults report difficulty falling asleep at least a few times a month.

But, if you’re wondering, the sheep-counting method is mostly a myth – in fact, a 2002 experiment at Oxford University suggests counting sheep may actually increase the time it takes to doze off.

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