Sleep plays an important role in our health. Insufficient sleep causes various health issues such as a weakened immune system, obesity, and even cardiovascular diseases.
Lack of sleep can also result in trouble concentrating and memory issues. The long-term effects of sleep deprivation should not be underestimated.
Statistics on sleep deprivation show that over 6,000 fatal car crashes are due to drowsy driving, and that work related accidents are seven times more likely to happen to people who suffer from insomnia as compared to people who have good sleep.
If most of your nights are spent tossing and turning, and find that you have difficulties falling and staying asleep, a sleep diary may be of great help in getting you back to a solid night’s sleep.
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What is a sleep diary?
A sleep diary, sleep journal, or sleep log is a simple tool that can help you and your doctor investigate how much and how well you sleep. Recording related details in your diary for one or two weeks can help your doctor diagnose your sleeping issues as it reveals your sleep habits and patterns.
Once your sleep issues are diagnosed and treatment is given, the sleep diary can be used to check whether the treatment is effective. Common details recorded in the diary include bedtime and wake-up time, sleep interruptions, daytime sleep, and perceived sleep quality.
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What does a sleep diary do?
Sleep diaries are often used by doctors because they are such an easy tool to evaluate a person’s sleep. Daily logs can reveal if a person is suffering from conditions such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders. However, you can also use it to track your own sleeping patterns.
Properly recording sleep patterns enables one to calculate total sleep time and identify sleep disruptions. It will also reveal other factors that are influencing sleep quality.
Sleep diaries also enable the identification of patterns and habits that may explain your issues. Concrete daily entries in a sleep log are usually more reliable than a general recollection of sleep patterns.
Besides this, sleep diaries are also used in certain sleep studies. They can be used to assess patients with insomnia and are sometimes used to collect data on participants’ sleep patterns in the lead up to a sleep study.
How to keep a sleep diary?
Keeping a sleep diary is actually quite easy. However, for it to be accurate, the diary needs to be filled out carefully daily. Most of them have two sections - one to be completed in the morning when you wake up, and another in the evening.
It is important to update your diary consistently. Doing so will help you avoid memory gaps.
For example, you should try to fill in the morning section within an hour of waking up. An easy solution is to ensure this is to keep both the diary and a pen at your bedside table or an accessible place where you can see it.
If you’re keeping a sleep journal as per your doctor’s recommendations, make sure to follow all given instructions. Your doctor will probably get you to fill in your diary for a minimum of one week.
If you’re doing it on your own accord, it’s up to you to decide on how long you want to record this information. Do remember that you should also review the recorded information.
What to record in a sleep diary?
Here’s what most sleep logs will require you to record:
- What time did you go to bed?
- How long did it take for you to fall asleep?
- How many times did you wake up at night?
- How long did you keep awake each time you woke up?
- What time did you wake up in the morning?
- How well did you sleep?
- Did you nap in the daytime? If so, how many times and how long was each nap?
- How many alcoholic drinks did you have?
- How many caffeinated drinks did you have?
- Did you take any medications? If yes, what were the medications taken?
- Did you exercise? If yes, at what time did you do so?
What can your sleep diary tell you?
The results from your sleep log might come in as a surprise. For example, you might discover that your exercise time is too late in the day resulting in your brain being alert during bedtime.
If so, moving your exercise time earlier will help you avoid taking hours to fall asleep at night.
Or you might find that the cup of coffee you have in the late afternoon is the culprit. Caffeine can stay in human bloodstream for up to 10 hours. Thus, being careful in timing your last cup of coffee could be the key to better sleep.
You might also learn that you are checking your phone just before you sleep. Blue light from mobile phones and other electronic devices can disrupt the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps you to regulate sleep.
Whatever the case is, a sleep diary will help you to understand your sleep habits and reveal areas in which you can improve sleep hygiene.
Evaluating your sleep with a sleep diary
If you’re keeping a sleep journal on your own, here are some questions that can assist in evaluating your sleep:
- Does your diary show a sleep schedule that is consistent or full of fluctuations?
- Do you lie down in bed for long and are still unable to fall asleep?
- Do you experience sleep disruptions at night? Is there a pattern to it and is there anything in the diary that might explain the reason?
- Do you feel that you are well-rested when you wake up? Do you feel sleepy during the day?
- Do you take long naps? Are your naps too late in the day?
- Is your intake of caffeine, alcohol, and/or medication affecting your sleeping time and quality?
- Are you budgeting enough time for sleep?
These questions can help you identify ways in which you can improve sleep hygiene and boost your overall health. You can continue to fill in the diary for the next few weeks after taking steps to improve your sleep. Thereafter, you can reevaluate your sleep diary to see if you are experiencing better sleep.
Tips to improve sleep hygiene
Once you have evaluated your sleeping habits, you may find that your sleep hygiene is actually not too great. Following are some habits that can help improve your sleep quality:
- Have a consistent sleep schedule (fixed time for going to bed and waking up every day).
- Make your bedroom is conducive to sleep - quiet, dark, comfortable temperature
- Ensure that your bedroom is free of electronic devices (TV, Laptops, etc).
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, or heavy meals just before bedtime
- Exercise in the first half of the day.
- Have a relaxing pre-bedtime routine such as quiet meditation or a warm bath to relax before bedtime. A calming cup of caffeine-free tea or a natural and safe sleep supplement can also help promote relaxation.
Other ways of tracking your sleep
While a sleep diary is a very helpful instrument when it comes to tracking sleep, there are a few other methods available:
- Sleep trackers are devices that you can wear to track your sleep and activity. It is very similar to devices that track heart rate and the number of steps you take in a day. Sleep trackers can measure heart rate, movements, and brain activity. Some trackers are designed to be worn on your wrist while others are to be placed under your mattress. The accuracy of sleep trackers varies depending on the type and quality of the device.
- Actigraphy uses a device designed to measure your sleep by detecting your movement. It is worn on your wrist and often used to diagnose sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia. Doctors sometimes use this device together with a sleep diary to obtain both subjective and objective sleep measurements.
- A polysomnography or sleep study is a test in which you wear sensors on your head and body. These sensors work to measure and record breathing and brain activity while you sleep. Polysomnography is usually ordered by a doctor or sleep specialist but can be carried out either at the clinic or at home.
- Sleep questionnaires are used for subjective sleep evaluations. While helpful, they are less detailed and generally less accurate than sleep diaries.
Sleep diaries can track sleep habits and help diagnose sleep disorders. It is a popular tool because of its low cost, simplicity, and broad insight it offers. Try using one today, you might be surprised to discover ways in which you can improve your sleep.
Sleep diary template
If you’re looking for a sleep diary template, check out below to download Rilax®'s easy to use sleep journal. Contact us and let us know how you fare!