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Lots of people write or journal before bed as part of a winddown ritual, and research has found that this routine does help people doze off. But a recent study found that what you write before bed actually makes a difference in how quickly you fall asleep.

According to the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, writing your next day’s to-do list before bed is more effective for helping people fall asleep than reflecting on accomplishments or anything that’s occurred in the past.

The study consisted of individuals ages 18 to 30, each of whom were assigned to either write a to-do list or write a list of the day’s completed activities before going to bed. The findings concluded that those who wrote the to-do lists fell asleep faster than those who penned finished tasks or things from the past, which the researchers found surprising, considering that incomplete chores often tend to cause anxiety and worry.

The difference here, however, is that participants focused on creating their to-do lists, as opposed to “mentally ruminating” about pending responsibilities. Specificity has to do with it, too: The more specific a to-do list, the better the participant’s sleep, the researchers note. 

If you have trouble ruminating over all your upcoming tasks before you fall asleep, take a lesson from this research, and start a new Microstep. Take just a few minutes to write out your to-dos before you go to sleep. That helps get them out of your head and onto paper.  

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