If you are anything like me then you probably kept a diary at some point in our lives. Maybe you kept one as a child to record your deepest, darkest secrets. Or perhaps you currently write in a journal for reflection and relaxation as an adult.
But have you ever kept a sleep diary – a diary dedicated to writing only about your sleeping habits?
A sleep diary is used for the sole purpose of tracking your sleep patterns over a period of time. It can be a very useful, not to mention inexpensive, tool for diagnosing and evaluating your sleep habits.
Maybe you struggle with insomnia or other sleep-deficiency issues. Or perhaps you sleep way too much and can’t seem to wake up. No matter what kind of sleeper you are, keeping a sleep diary can provide you with interesting insight regarding your sleep patterns and habits.
Starting a sleep diary isn’t difficult, but it should include fairly specific information in order to be effective.
But before you run out and buy that leather-bound journal you’ve been eyeing, let’s discuss some of the reasons why you might want to keep a sleep diary in the first place.
The What and Why of Sleep Diaries
A sleep diary, sometimes called a sleep log, is a detailed record of any and all information about your sleeping patterns and habits. This information is recorded on a daily basis over a period of several weeks, or even months.1
Some information that may be recorded in a sleep diary might include:
- Sleep and wake times
- How many times you woke in the night
- What you ate and drank that day or prior to sleep
- Daily activities or stressors
These are some of the general topics that are covered in a sleep diary, though we’ll go into a bit more detail on these in our how-to guide later on.
With all the responsibilities that you likely juggle each day, why would you want to add carefully documenting your sleep to that list?
There are a variety of reasons that keeping a sleep diary might be a useful habit to get into. Many people think only those with very problematic sleep need to keep a sleep diary. But this is not necessarily true.
Sleep diaries are definitely a useful diagnostic tool, but you don’t have to struggle with major sleep issues to benefit from keeping one. You might keep a sleep diary for some of the following reasons.
It will give you a deeper understanding of your sleep patterns and habits.
How many times have you said (or heard someone say)…
…I didn’t sleep at all last night – I have such bad insomnia!
Probably more than once. It’s pretty common to jump to the conclusion that you have a sleep disorder rather than examining if your own poor sleep habits may be to blame.
Many of us seek medical treatment because of an assumed ‘sleep disorder’. In reality, simply evaluating our own sleep hygiene can most likely solve our sleep issues.
Before seeking medical treatment, arm yourself with as much knowledge about your personal sleeping habits as possible. Keeping a sleep diary can help you identify bad sleep habits that may be the culprit of your sleeping woes so that you don’t need to seek professional medical advice.
Things like drinking too much caffeine late in the day, irregular sleep and whether you wake early or oversleep, or staring at a computer screen before bed can contribute to negative sleep experiences.
By recording these daily factors in a sleep diary, you’ll be able to better notice patterns and trends affecting your sleep.
2. It will encourage you to be focus on your sleep.
But who has time for that?!
Yes, we’re all busy. Sometimes it may seem like you don’t have even a minute to spare. But when it comes to sleep – something that you spend nearly 1/3 of your life doing – it’s worth it to make time to keep a sleep diary.By simply jotting down a few notes about your sleep each day, you’re forced to intentionally focus on the act of sleeping. This increased focus on sleep makes it hard to ignore what a large impact sleep has on your entire life.
The small act of dedicating a few minutes per day to exploring your sleep habits will likely encourage you to do things to improve it. Even if you sleep pretty well on a regular basis, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to sleep.
Something as simple as noticing that you sleep better on nights that you don’t drink wine, can help you make changes that will improve the quality of your sleep. A sleep diary simply heightens your sleep-awareness and that can spur positive changes.
3. It can help your doctor diagnose any sleep disorders.
Requesting that you keep a sleep diary is often the first course of action that a doctor will suggest when helping you understand and diagnose any possible sleeping disorders. A sleep diary is one of the most powerful tools in the diagnostic process.
When seeking treatment for sleeping issues without any kind of sleep diary or documentation to support your claims, your doctor can’t possibly see the full picture. After all, you’re probably so tired that you’re forgetting to express important symptoms or information.
Documenting your sleeping habits over an extended period of time will provide your doctor with objective information that’s crucial for a proper diagnosis. After evaluating your sleep diary, your doctor can help you pursue a course of action accordingly.
4. It can help you monitor how effective your sleep treatment is.
Based on your sleep diary and your doctor’s evaluation, your treatment will be dependent on the diagnosis that he comes up with. If you have been diligent about keeping your sleep diary, chances are your doctor will be able to effectively treat your sleeping problems.
But this doesn’t mean you should lock up that sleep diary and throw away the key.
Once you’ve been diagnosed and start treatment, your sleep diary will be more useful than ever! Keeping a record of how your sleep improves with treatment – or doesn’t improve for that matter – can shine some light on how accurate your diagnosis was.
For instance, if you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, you may be treated with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). This can be a difficult treatment to adjust to and some patients even give up soon after starting.
By keeping a sleep diary, you can see how your sleep has improved with treatment. This might encourage you to stick with it and reap all the long-term benefits. Or, you may notice through your sleep diary that you may have been mis-diagnosed because your sleep is not improving.
Either way, continuing to use your sleep diary throughout your treatment can help you determine just how effective the treatment is.
How to Start Keeping a Sleep Diary
You may be thinking,
How difficult can it be to keep a sleep diary? Do I really need a How-To Guide?
The truth is, it’s not very difficult to keep a sleep diary. But in order for it to be effective in helping you evaluate your sleep, there’s some important information that you need to be certain you include.
You don’t actually have to go out and purchase a journal or diary – any spiral notebook or even loose-leaf paper will do. Or you can search ‘sleep diary’ online and find a wide variety of templates to download and print.
Perhaps the most important thing you want to record each day is your sleep efficiency. Sleep efficiency is a score that you can use to determine whether or not you are sleeping better each night. Click here to learn more about sleep efficiency and how to calculate it.
Other data you may want to journal in your sleep diary includes:
- The time you got in bed
- How long it took to fall asleep
- What time you left bed in the morning
- How many times you woke up throughout the night
- How refreshing or rejuvenating overall sleep was
- Factors that disturbed sleep (breathing issues, bathroom issues, leg cramps, etc.)
- Total number of caffeinated beverages that day and times drank
- Total number of alcoholic beverages that day and times drank
- Medication taken
- Time spent exercising and type of exercise
- Activities done within the last hour prior to bed
- Last meal of the day or snacks eaten before bed
- Emotional stressors of the day
By carefully recording the above information each day for a minimum of two weeks, you’ll gain some serious insight to your sleep habits and patterns. Determining what is responsible for your insomnia is very much trial and error. And a sleep diary can be used to determine what changes may have been responsible for that amazing sleep you had last night2
The trick is to make incremental changes to your sleeping routine. This way you find it easier to identify what is responsible for making you sleep better or worse.
A sleep diary should be the starting point for anyone who has sleep problems.
Do you keep a sleep diary? How did it help you? Let me know in the comments below!