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[–]mveaMD-PhD-MBA | Clinical Professor/Medicine[S] 1357 points1358 points  (99 children)

Journal reference:

Scullin, M. K., Krueger, M. L., Ballard, H. K., Pruett, N., & Bliwise, D. L. (2018).

The effects of bedtime writing on difficulty falling asleep: A polysomnographic study comparing to-do lists and completed activity lists.

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 147(1), 139-146.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000374

Link: http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2017-47677-001


Bedtime worry, including worrying about incomplete future tasks, is a significant contributor to difficulty falling asleep. Previous research showed that writing about one’s worries can help individuals fall asleep. We investigated whether the temporal focus of bedtime writing—writing a to-do list versus journaling about completed activities—affected sleep onset latency. Fifty-seven healthy young adults (18–30) completed a writing assignment for 5 min prior to overnight polysomnography recording in a controlled sleep laboratory. They were randomly assigned to write about tasks that they needed to remember to complete the next few days (to-do list) or about tasks they had completed the previous few days (completed list). 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. Therefore, to facilitate falling asleep, individuals may derive benefit from writing a very specific to-do list for 5 min at bedtime rather than journaling about completed activities.

[–]Gandalf-The-Fuscia 593 points594 points  (44 children)

Thank you so much for making this comment. If every post that linked to an article had even just the DOI in a comment it would make everything so much easier

[–]jherd801 28 points29 points  (43 children)

For a solid paper published in a respectable journal it sure read like a 20 year old sophomore wrote it. Not for better or worse, just read somewhat... informal?

[–]bpastoreJD | Patent Law | BS-Biomedical Engineering 224 points225 points  (10 children)

What makes it read like a "20 year old sophomore" wrote it? The writing is clear, concise, and effective. It's an incredibly efficient form of communicating their research.

Far too many abstracts read as if the authors intentionally wrote it that way so that only PhD's within their specific field could understand them. It's the scientific equivalent of including "legalese" but, at least with a legal contract, one reason for the legalese is to confuse you.

An abstract should be accessible to everyone who is interested in the study.

[–]steaknsteak 11 points12 points  (0 children)

Yeah the writing here is actually great. It’s clear and informative. No fluff either. But it’s very common for people to mistake pretentious diction and complex sentence structure for good writing

[–]lf11 27 points28 points  (7 children)

one reason for the legalese is to confuse you.

Gonna disagree with you here. The legalese is not to confuse, but to establish precision. Reality is messy. Legalese is an attempt to collate the messiness of reality into discrete blocks, so that unexpected outcomes have some chance of being addressed in a definable way.

[–]efduarte 9 points10 points  (1 child)

The legalese is not to confuse, but to establish precision. Reality is messy. Legalese is an attempt to collate the messiness of reality into discrete blocks, so that unexpected outcomes have some chance of being addressed in a definable way.

Yet, it can still be used to confuse and alienate.

[–]lf11 2 points3 points  (0 children)

This is true. Doctors can lie with their lingo but the lingo serves a different purpose. Just because a tool can be misused does not change the proper purpose of the tool.

[–]F_F_X_ 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Take a look at Google's terms of service. It's precise enough for a big company like that, but completely readable to someone who is not an English or pre Law major.

[–]Alberius 238 points239 points  (28 children)

That indicates a high level of understanding, the more you know the less you have to rely on complex terminology

[–]All_Work_All_Play 146 points147 points  (5 children)

I agree with this insomuch as the material itself isn't complex. The paper isn't examining the chemical or biological pathways that activate worry, nor is is examining the psychological impact of worry or anxiety. While complex terminology can be used as a crutch, it's not inherently bad.

[–]HaussingHippo 9 points10 points  (14 children)

Could you give another example of that? As an engineering student it's definitely seeming the opposite way as I progress through my classes.

[–]RareKazDewMelon 65 points66 points  (6 children)

If you can’t break down an idea to its core, then you probably don’t know what the core of the idea is.

Certainly, there are MANY advanced topics that can’t be explained in layman’s terms with a great amount of detail, but almost every concept can be simplified to a summary of a few simple sentences, but that requires a very intimate knowledge of the subject matter.

[–]HaussingHippo 8 points9 points  (1 child)

That makes sense, I figured it was along the line of professors being able to easily provide analogies and layman termed explanations like you said. Thanks for the reply

[–]Randomn355 4 points5 points  (0 children)

If you can't explain it simply, you just don't understand it well enough.

However, word count is a factor. I'll use accounting terminology as that's what my degree was in as an example.

Consolidation accounts is just the term for taking a group of companies, putting the costs in the ight places, and only have sales show up when they leave the group. They are the final set of accounts that are presented for the group to show the overall standing.

That way, when company A sells it to company B, then sells it to an external company, it doesn't look like you have both sets of revenue on the accounts when you come to calculate profit.

Now, I can explain it simply (as above), but in some contexts it's simply more appropriate to say 'consolidation accounts'. Ie when the audience can be reasonably assumed to have that knowledge (professional level publications), and hn being concise is a factor.

[–]GamingNomad 3 points4 points  (3 children)

If you can’t break down an idea to its core, then you probably don’t know what the core of the idea is.

Do you have any idea how I can tackle this issue? I realize that when I fail to explain something easily enough, it's because of my comprehension of the matter. How do I tackle the issue of feeling like I understand something but realizing I don't?

[–]sparrow5 6 points7 points  (1 child)

Imagine standing in a library about the subject and a kid approaches you and asks you how to answer the question. Try to explain it to them, and when you get to the part you have trouble breaking down, focus on that material and try to teach it to yourself so you can explain it to the kid in the imaginary library.

[–]Sir_Lith 5 points6 points  (0 children)

Ever read Einstein's publications? They're like that, too.

[–]Shiroi_Kage 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Not necessarily, I have to say. Complex words sometimes depend on how "out there" your field is. This is a study about worries and sleep that doesn't seem to have much about investigating its physiology. Thanks to all these processes being everyday things that people do it turns out they can be described with everyday language rather efficiently.

[–]HopChopper 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I disagree in regards to writing abstracts though. Abstracts are always extremely limited in word count and complex terminology allows you to give more precise information in less words.

[–]Zabbiemaster 1 point2 points  (2 children)

not using complex terminology

Chemistry and quantum physics wants to have a word with you. ;P

[–]dagit 68 points69 points  (21 children)

I would have expected a third group that was told to follow their usual routine.

Is that unnecessary is this study and if so why?

[–]spockspeare 93 points94 points  (19 children)

from the abstract:

Previous research showed that writing about one’s worries can help individuals fall asleep.

They already knew they would see effects vs. control; now they're splitting value up between methods.

Albeit, what if the review-writers actually made their sleep times worse?

[–]spinollama 14 points15 points  (0 children)

The purpose of research studies is largely to "fill the gaps" that previous research have left. In this case, there's already research on how long it takes worried people to fall asleep in general. Moreover, it's incredibly expensive to do research studies to begin with -- unless the hypothesis itself involves a control group, adding a control group for the hell of it would inflate its costs substantially for no meaningful gain.

[–]RedeRules770 20 points21 points  (10 children)

I wonder if all of the participants had the same results. If I start thinking about what I need to get done tomorrow I get anxious, not sleepy

[–]nightlily 18 points19 points  (1 child)

writing it down and thinking about it are very different things. If you are thinking about it, some part of you may feel determined to keep thinking about it so as to avoid forgetting the next day. Have you ever tried writing it down? The idea behind doing so is that if you were already worrying at all about what you need to get done, then writing it down will give you peace of mind - you don't need to remember all the details, just where your notes are.

[–]lf11 1 point2 points  (0 children)

It's interested that we write things down to put them out of our mind ... and then also write things down to "remember" them.

[–]Kaiyna92 7 points8 points  (0 children)

Honestly thinking about it but not writing it down was the problem for me. Especially if you experience thought loops (either because you're afraid of forgetting about them before you wake up or because one thought leads to the other and it's an endless cycle), it can become a nightmare.

On the other hand, once it's on paper, I know it's there, I can forget about it since the paper will be here to remind me tomorrow and if I'm anxious about something, writing all the pros and cons of a decision or what worries me also stops the loop.

The loop only exists because I can think of one thing at a time and each thing leads to the next, having them all written down in front of me is a good way to acknowledge them but also a good way to "run out" of new thoughts. Once I can't come up with anything new, my brain usually quiets down or moves on, I'll gladly take 10 minutes of journaling over 2-3 hours of lying down overthinking about stuff.

[–]KevinCostNerf 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Yet another underpowered psychology study.

[–]AN0NASP0SSIBLE 136 points137 points  (23 children)

So im confused, science says reading before bed is good...but also says journaling before bed is good. Is doing both before bed good? If so, what order should i be in?

[–]Eurynom0s 129 points130 points  (6 children)

I think the point is a combination of getting your mind off of things (reading) and getting things off your mind (journaling).

I know I tend to listen to music when I go to sleep and the primary purpose, for me, is to keep my thoughts fixed on the music instead of keeping me awake by racing between a million different things.

[–]Jondoe1791 9 points10 points  (0 children)

YOu know what, that makes a lot of sense. I don't Journal per se but I do think about story ideas as I'm laying in bed. Keeps my mind off of anything I have to stress about.

[–]dagit 24 points25 points  (0 children)

Sounds like some interesting questions to explore in future studies.

[–]whiteruffles 14 points15 points  (4 children)

Okay yea but if you're a student a study says not to read before bed cus you're conditioning yourself to sleep if you plan on hitting the textbooks irl

[–]WolfeTheMind 9 points10 points  (1 child)

Vary up the routines enough and it shouldn't have a crossover effect. Reading an easy fiction book at night under soft lighting on your bed after having a cup of chamomile is different then sitting at your desk with a textbook, a cup of matcha and the lights on mid-day

[–]GoochMasterFlash 1 point2 points  (0 children)


I think the commenter is probably more concerned about cramming textbooks at night, but youre definitely correct regardless

[–]CopperBranchRandstad 1 point2 points  (0 children)

So it's fine as long as you read at other times of day

[–]rieoskddgka 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Also consider: any time of day is technically “before bed.”

[–]superherofive 250 points251 points  (53 children)

Won't writing what you need to do tomorrow potentially cause anxiety?

[–]RLDSXD 41 points42 points  (13 children)

Thank you! I’m really, really surprised to see only one other person say this. The thought of having a tangible list of things to accomplish would crank the pressure up. Suddenly it goes from “should do” to “have to do”, and there’s the ever-looming threat of an unfinished list acting as physical proof that you’re a failure.

[–]All_Work_All_Play 26 points27 points  (5 children)

But now that list is limited. Many of the people that experience these types of thoughts will actually find relief from writing them down because they're now concrete. It's the very reason why 'should' is so self defeating, and why people would live happier lives if they eliminated should from their vocabulary.

[–]RLDSXD 9 points10 points  (0 children)

Eh. I find “should do” far more manageable. “Have to do”, like I said, ramps the pressure up way more, and pressure is at the center of it all. In fact, “having” to do something stresses me out so much that I have to calm myself with suicidal thoughts, because suicide is irrefutable proof that we don’t have to do anything. It takes the pressure off because it makes life feel like a choice rather than something we’re forced to endure.

Is that a healthy way to look at things? Probably not. But it illustrates the issue I have with the solution presented. Concrete concepts are not a good thing for all people.

[–]ILoveWildlife 9 points10 points  (0 children)

The people who have trouble sleeping have a big "have to do" list, and an even bigger "should do" list.

[–]SordidDreams 4 points5 points  (0 children)

That sounds like it makes sense, but despite what we like to think, the brain is weird and irrational. Now this is one study and I have no idea if it's even well-designed, but I'm more inclined to trust the numbers than my intuition.

That said, every person is different. Just try it and see what works best for you?

[–]intensely_human 15 points16 points  (2 children)

We use science to see beyond our current beliefs.

[–]outofyourtree 14 points15 points  (1 child)

-have a coffee before making it to work on time

  • endure

-eat some greasy food at some point

-masturbate and/or watch "The Office"

-write in my journal

[–]Scaef 9 points10 points  (0 children)

Hey bud I'd prefer you not post my routine online, for privacy reasons

[–]myislanduniverse 19 points20 points  (6 children)

I'd be interested to see if there's any correlation between the ability to remember short term tasks and anxiety. If you (even subconsciously) realize you're likely to forget due outs, you might agonize over them more?

[–]dagit 7 points8 points  (1 child)

I want to say there had been some research into memory/recall and how people feel about their life. I think people with worse recall were more likely to to feel content.

[–]dlefnemulb_rima 4 points5 points  (0 children)

On the other hand some studies have shown depression has a negative effect on memory.

[–]re_nonsequiturs 1 point2 points  (0 children)

There's a correlation between ADHD and anxiety, where getting ADHD meds helps anxiety symptoms and anxiety meds help ADHD symptoms, so you've definitely got a good idea there.

[–]Porsher12345 4 points5 points  (2 children)

Is it that 'content' as in the amount of stuff you've written, or 'content' as in you're comfortable?

[–]elephantrum 5 points6 points  (1 child)

You're closest with your first guess. Content as in the topics about which you're writing, but not the amount.

[–]Porsher12345 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Yeah I'd say so as well, thanks :)

[–]LordMudkip 2 points3 points  (0 children)

I feel like all this would do for me would be give me 5 specific things to lay in bed and worry about rather than the general worry/anxiety thing I currently do, which still leaves me just laying in bed worrying about something.

[–]WisconsinExPat 2 points3 points  (1 child)

What’s the point? Every day is identical and I have nothing I need to accomplish the next day.

[–]NebNebNeb 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Not if everything on it is the same as the night before...

[–]imjosefdes 2 points3 points  (1 child)

Wonder if journaling, using a digital format will secure the same benefit as using analog tools

[–]drmike0099 1 point2 points  (3 children)

This is a core tenet of the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology. It even states that you can expect significant stress relief by getting all of your to dos out of your head.

Edit - yikes autocorrect and my own train of thought errors corrected.