How to Actually Fall Asleep When Your Mind Races

You can read as many self-help articles as you want about just how vital sleep is, but if you lie awake with the lights out on weeknights, you're not much better off. We're an overloaded society, and it's hard to quiet your brain at bedtime. One simple tip might set your mind at ease, though. All that's between you and the sleep you need might be paper and a pencil.

Neuroscientists at Baylor University think they have proof that making to-do lists before bed will help you sleep better and sooner. While the study is small, it does line up with anecdotal claims that outsourcing your thoughts can help lighten the load. If what's keeping you up is your inner voice trying to plan the coming day, your best option is to get the planning out of the way somehow.

The Baylor researchers asked study participants to spend just five minutes writing down either upcoming duties or things they'd already completed. Then, in a controlled environment, participants got into bed and turned their lights out. According to the published study, "Participants in the to-do list condition fell asleep significantly faster than those in the completed-list condition. 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."

If you're interested in the power of making lists, whether it's to help get rested or to accomplish a project, surgeon and writer Atul Gawande has written an entire book about it, The Checklist Manifesto. "First, [checklists] helped with memory recall," he writes for The New Yorker. "A second effect was to make explicit the minimum, expected steps in complex processes." If you can both offload the list running inside your head and reassure yourself that the steps involved are small and manageable, you could be setting yourself up to tackle tomorrow at your best.