If you regularly wake up feeling groggy and unprepared to face the day or worse: if you spend most nights in sleepless agony, counting down the hours until your alarm blares; a sleep diary may be the simple solution you’ve been searching for. Beyond logging the time you crawled into bed and the time you (perhaps begrudgingly) awoke, recording data about your caffeine and alcohol intake, daytime activities, and mood can provide invaluable insight into what’s keeping you from the rest you need.
No matter where you are in your quest for better sleep – whether you’re already working with a doctor to potentially diagnose a sleep disorder, or you hope to find and address unhealthy sleep habits on your own – understanding what keeps you up at night is the key to real rest.
Sleep Journal Basics
Before further examining why a sleep diary will likely boost your z’s, it’s important to grasp how it’s done. You can take an old school paper and pencil approach, or download Somn Labs’ template to easily track:
• Wake and sleep times
• Quality of sleep
• How many times you awoke throughout the night
• What, if anything, interrupted your slumber
• How many caffeinated and alcoholic drinks you consumed over the course of the day
• What your general mood was like during the day
• The activities you engaged in one hour before bedtime
• What foods you ate in the evening and when
• Any medications you took
• Anything notable about your sleep environment, like room temperature, darkness, and whether or not your bedding was comfortable.
Over time, these insights will allow you to piece together your shuteye puzzle. If you often eat a heavy meal too close to bedtime, for example, your own digestive system may be the sleep thief. If you begin to find that the glow from a streetlamp outside your window frequently wakes you, your particular light sensitivity may be the culprit. Recording and evaluating your habits will shed light, too, on your particular susceptibilities and where you can clean up your sleep hygiene. And good news: sometimes you can problem solve on your own, without the help of a doctor. Eye mask, anyone?
Consistency is Crucial
Remember, skipped sleep journal entries tell you nothing. If you’re serious about getting to the root of your unreliable repose, you need to be diligent. According to Matthew Ebben, PhD, a psychologist specializing in sleep medicine, “A sleep log is a great way to document what someone is feeling about their sleep quality and see if that improves over time.” The operative words? Over time.
So Why Keep a Sleep Diary?
1. Keeping a sleep log will help you understand your own sleep habits.
Most of the time, sleep disorders are not to blame for your trouble snoozing. The real problem is often your sleep habits. If you regularly consume caffeine in the late afternoon, drink wine with a rich dinner, cater to your midnight sweet tooth, go for an evening scroll through Instagram – even if you sleep in a cluttered bedroom and thereby possess a collaterally cluttered brain – you’re blocking yourself from the sleep you need. Honestly assessing whether or not your sleep routine, or lack thereof, is serving you could do wonders for your beauty sleep.
Often, sleep study patients who have not thoroughly analyzed their nightly habits, i.e. those who haven’t bothered to keep a sleep journal, are diagnosed with Insufficient Sleep Syndrome, which essentially means your crummy sleep is a result of the aforementioned voluntary behaviors. With a little reflection on your pre-sleep patterns, you can save yourself a doctor’s visit and a lot of strife. Just take note of any tendencies that don’t align with good sleep hygiene, self-correct, and see if things improve. If not, then seek out a sleep doctor.
2. A sleep journal helps you prioritize shuteye.
When you become aware of the behaviors that negatively impact your sleep, you adjust. As soon as you start keeping your sleep diary, you’ll start to make conscious choices to improve your nights spent in subconscious dreamland. You’ll choose chamomile tea over a bourbon nightcap. You’ll work out earlier in the day so your body isn’t running on adrenaline when you hop into the sack. You’ll abolish blue light and draw the curtains. You’ll scent your space with lavender and keep your nightstand tidy so your worries don’t stack up like so many half-empty water glasses and a forsaken bottle of melatonin pills. Simply, once you realize how your choices have been negatively impacting you, you’ll make different choices.
3. It will help your doctor diagnose the issue.
If you see a primary care physician or sleep specialist about a potential sleep disorder, he or she will very likely ask you to keep a sleep log for at least two weeks. It’s best to start your sleep log in advance of your visit so your doctor has more information to work with.
If, after you’ve kept a sleep journal for a couple of weeks and adjusted your sleep habits, you’re still having trouble sleeping; you should schedule a consultation with your physician. With your sleep journal as a guide, your doctor will be better able to avoid common misdiagnoses. Women who have sleep apnea, for example, are wrongfully treated for insomnia more often than not. If you show your doctor a sleep log that demonstrates apnea symptoms from the get-go, you can avoid the loop of futile doctor’s visits, ineffective treatments, and inevitable frustration… and fast forward to the healing part.
4. A sleep diary is an effective tool… and there’s science to back it up.
According to Dr. Ebben, keeping a sleep log for at least two weeks is a “wealth of information”, giving patients the opportunity “to find and fix sleep problems”. And, medical professionals across the board agree. In 2012, a coalition of insomnia researchers developed a consensus sleep diary to further standardize what they found to be an incredibly useful tool in addressing circadian rhythm disorders.
5. Keeping a sleep log will encourage you to take charge of your health in other ways, too.
Tracking your own personal data (lifelogging, quantified self tracking, body hacking, what have you) is not a bad habit to get into, and it’s not so much about counting your steps each day or meticulously recording calories: it’s a feeling. What wakes you up at night? Which foods wreak havoc on your digestive system? If you menstruate, when in your cycle do you feel most creative? Everyone’s body is different, and when you start to pay particular attention to the myriad ways your own body reacts to sleep disruptors, you’ll learn to pay attention to what breaks your skin out, makes you bloated, and gives you anxiety. In short, you’ll be better able to understand and nurture your own health across the board.
6. You can monitor whether or not your treatment is working.
If you are, in fact, diagnosed with a sleep disorder, you’ll want to track the effectiveness of your treatment. Sleep apnea treatment, or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, is notoriously tough to get used to – many patients prescribed CPAP quit treatment within the first few weeks. However, if you’re struggling with treatment, comparing your pre-treatment sleep log to your post-treatment sleep log can be tremendously reassuring. Just look at how far you’ve come! And if for some reason treatment is not working, you’ll be able to spot that, too.
7. You might actually enjoy keeping a sleep diary
If you write morning pages, keep a bullet journal, or consider yourself a writer – you just might like keeping your sleep log. Make it your own, make it sustainable, and make it fun! There’s no truer form of self-care than learning how to keep yourself healthy and happy. Do it your way.
So whether you keep a sleep log under doctor’s orders, or you’re looking to institute a new journaling practice in the name of optimal sleep and wellbeing; a sleep diary is an easy, effective, and illuminating way to finally get some sleep.