Tracking sleep patterns with a sleep diary helps people identify possible causes of sleep disruptions. A sleep diary is a written record of sleep times, awakenings and factors that help or hinder getting to sleep. Keeping a sleep diary can improve sleep patterns and may even help detect more serious health problems of which lack of sleep is only a symptom.
Sleep Diaries as Diagnostic Tools
Obtaining a sleep history can be helpful in successfully treating insomnia, snoring, nightmares, anxiety and other conditions. Keeping a detailed sleep log can help identify disturbances that prevent you from getting enough sleep, including stress or poor sleep hygiene (such as reading in bed or remaining in bed when not sleepy).
Sleep diaries provide a first step in identifying and breaking habits that cause sleep deprivation. Therapists may also suggest keeping a sleep log to track emotional issues that may cause insomnia.
Starting A Sleep Diary
Sleep diaries may record a range of factors related to sleep patterns, including:
- Approximately how long it takes to fall asleep
- Bedtime and when lights are turned out
- Disruptions from outside sources (what they were and the time each occurred)
- How the individual feels on awakening (rested, tired, mentally alert, etc.)
- Number of waking periods during the night
- The number of dreams and what they were about
- Time of morning awakening and when the person gets out of bed.
After waking up, people record their previous night’s sleep in the sleep log. Sometimes bed partners also take notes, and report on excessive snoring, the degree of tossing and turning and other factors. Sleep logs may also include a grading system to help people judge their quality of sleep.
Some people make notes in sleep diaries during nighttime awakenings using a dim light. Bright lights are a signal to the brain to become fully alert. In the case of children, parents should keep sleep diaries.
Other details that people record in sleep diaries include:
- Beverages consumed before sleeping
- Daily exercise
- Medications taken, whether over-the-counter or prescription
- Number, length and time of daytime naps
- Time of last meal or snack before bedtime
- Use of nicotine or alcohol.
Sleeping patterns should be logged for at least one to three weeks to reveal possible causes of sleep problems. Once sleep diaries reveal existing sleep patterns, people can begin to make changes to their sleep habits. For instance, avoiding caffeine in the evenings may improve sleep patterns.
Who Needs a Sleep Diary?
Sleep logs can help people of any age better understand their sleep problems. While parents must document details of a child’s sleep, teens and adults alike can track their own sleep patterns. Sleep logs are effective ways to detect the causes of sleep problems while also improving sleep habits.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (n.d.). Two week sleep diary. Retrieved October 11, 2010, from http://www.sleepeducation.com/pdf/sleepdiary.pdf.
Insomniacs. (2010). Keeping a sleep diary and logging sleep patterns. Retrieved October 11, 2010, from http://www.insomniacs.co.uk/LoggingYourSleepResponse.html.
Sleepdiary.com. (2005). Infant and child sleep diary. Retrieved October 11, 2010, from http://www.sleepdiary.com/child_sleep_diary.html.