New research suggests that "offloading" your worries with pen and paper can help you doze off faster.

By Cassie Shortsleeve
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Photo: Ruslan Galiullin / Shutterstock

We've all had *those* nights. You hop in bed tired enough to fall asleep-but instead of drifting off, you start worrying about everything you have to do tomorrow (and the next day and next week). And before you know it, it's 1 a.m. and you're still staring at the ceiling.

Well, according to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, going over your to-do list could actually help you doze off. The trick is, you have to write everything down.

Researchers at Baylor University had 57 people complete a writing assignment for five minutes before bed-they either wrote a list of things they had to do in the next few days, or they journaled about activities they'd already completed. Turns out, those who penned about future tasks fell asleep significantly faster than those who listed out things they'd already done. The more specific the journal entries, the faster people fell asleep.

"One of the biggest barriers to falling asleep for people is that we have thoughts circling around in our heads when we turn out the lights," says Michael K. Scullin, Ph.D., the study's author and an assistant professor at Baylor. "These thought processes work in opposition to relaxing and falling asleep."

And there's a body of research a few decades old that finds writing or "offloading" your worries can soothe worry and anxiety. "Instinctively, you might think that writing down everything you haven't accomplished would make you worry more about those unfinished tasks, rather than writing about everything you did accomplish, which should be a 'pat-on-the-back,'" says Scullin.

But writing about what causes our worries (all those to-do tasks!) and having everything organized in one place where you can attack them the next day can help you relax, putting your mind at ease and facilitating sleep. (Read: All the Ways a Worry Journal Could Make Your Life Better)

And while Scullin says some research done in clinical settings (people with clinical anxiety disorders, for example) showed results from writing for 15 minutes, his study found just five minutes worked, too. "I like the five-minute idea because it's just enough to write a thorough to-do list without 'obsessing.'"

Need a place to start? Check out these 10 cute journals you'll actually want to write in.

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