In this post:

What is a sleep diary?

Why should you keep a sleep diary?

How should you to set up a sleep diary?

What other ways can you track your sleep?

When should you get professional advice?

Main point:

If you have problems getting quality sleep, a sleep diary could help you discover the reasons why.

Sleep diaries are a way for you to track your regular sleep habits and patterns. Sleep diaries are different from dream journals. Dream journals are only for recording the details of dreams.

Clinicians use sleep diaries to research insomnia and other sleep disorders which can aid in evaluating a patient’s sleep issues.

You can use a sleep diary to see patterns on your own as well. If you suspect that you have a sleep disorder, you can log the details of your sleep habits in a sleep diary.

There are plenty of reasons why getting a good night’s sleep is important. Here are some reasons listed below:

It helps your body restore and recover itself

It helps boost your focus, energy, and concentration during the day

It helps to improve your immune system

It helps to regulate your mood

Read further to learn how keeping a sleep diary could help you improve the quality of rest you get as well as other tips on how to start a daily log.

What is a sleep diary?

Keeping a sleep diary entails a few things. Typically you’ll want to have these items in your sleep log:

How long does it take to fall asleep (in minutes)?

Do you wake up during the night?

What number of times during the night do you wake up?

How long do these waking episodes last?

What time in the morning do you wake up?

What is your sleep quality rating for last night’s sleep?

These questions all provide snippets of information on their own that may not be very informative. However, if you combine and log this information for several nights of sleep, a sleep specialist may be able to derive meaningful information about your sleep efficiency.

You could also add notes to provide additional information about persistent sleep problems. For example, your auxiliary notes could include:

What activities you did before going to bed.

What time you ate dinner that night.

If you consumed alcohol or caffeine that day.

If you were feeling under the weather that day (like a cold, sore throat, fever, muscle pains, etc.).

With extra information like this, sleep diaries are an excellent tool to self-monitor sleep with the goal to improve your sleep quality. This is especially true if you provide this information to a sleep specialist who can analyze the data you collect and make recommendations for better sleep.

Why should you keep a sleep diary?

Keeping a sleep diary is not for everyone, but it can still be helpful to you if you have problems getting restorative sleep. It’s also possible that your healthcare provider may ask you to log your nightly sleep details if he or she suspects that your sleep is playing a vital role in your present health issues. Hence, keeping a sleep diary can also be useful even if you don’t have a sleep disorder. 

When you log details about your sleep-related habits, you can more easily narrow down issues you may have with your sleep hygiene. For example, keeping a sleep diary could help you to notice that days when you don’t feel fully rested are the same days that you play games on your mobile phone in bed before sleeping. This would indicate that you should not be playing mobile games just before bed as a measure to improve your sleep.

Sleep diaries can also be helpful for children. Parents or caretakers can use sleep diaries to establish regular sleep routines so that children get enough sleep. Such logs for young children could include details about routine naps.

How should you set up you sleep diary?

To get started with your sleep diary, you can use a questionnaire format. For instance, you should include questions about what time you go to bed at night and what time you wake up in the morning. It’s important to consistently answers the same questions daily for at least one or two weeks. Preferably, you should keep a sleep diary for around a month if you suspect that you are suffering from prolonged sleep problems that may indicate that you have a sleep disorder. Armed with the information in you sleep diary, you can seek advice from your primary healthcare provider who may refer you to a sleep specialist.

The questionnaire you use for your sleep diary can be simple. For example, your sleep diary could be modeled after the entry below.

An example entry for a sleep diary:

What time did you get into your bed or lay down to sleep? Answer: 10:15 pm.

What time did you try to fall asleep (actually close your eyes and try to sleep)? Answer: 10:45 pm.

What time do you estimate that you actually fell asleep? Answer: 11:15 pm.

What is your fall asleep time? Answer: 30 minutes.

Did you have any wake-ups during the night? Answer: Yes.

If yes, how many times did you wake up during the night? Answer: Twice (for bathroom visits).

How long was your waking episode(s) in minutes? Answer: Seven minutes for one, and ten minutes for the other.

What time did you wake up (when you opened your eyes)? Answer: 7 am.

What time did actually get out of bed? Answer: 7:15 am.

What was your sleep quality for this sleep session on a scale from 1 to 10? (A score of 10 means that you are fully refreshed and rested upon waking. A middle score means that you were groggy. The lower the score, the more you felt that you were not fully rested and you needed more sleep.) Answer: Six for a groggy feeling when waking up.

Did you take any daytime naps before this sleep session? Answer: Yes, one hour from approximately 3 pm to 4 pm.

Additional Notes: I watched Netflix in bed one hour before going to bed, and I had to work late.

What other ways can you track your sleep?

If you suffer from insomnia, a sleep diary is a great way for recognizing your condition and planning treatment for it. However, there are also wearable devices that you can use to collect data about your sleep habits. These wearable devices have built-in accelerometers that track sleep patterns. Although these devices allow you to passively collect data and circumvent the time-consuming task of keeping a sleep diary, a disadvantage of these devices is that they can’t record your personal experiences. They provide quantitative measurements but not qualitative information. These wearable devices will not provide advice based on the data they collect. So, a sleep diary will provide more insight into your sleep related issues, especially for your doctor.

Also, you don’t have to have a sleep disorder to have problems sleeping. There is a myriad of things that could be affecting your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Here are some examples:

Consuming caffeine in the afternoon past lunchtime.

Taking daytime naps.

Eating large meals before bedtime.

Blue light exposure from screens before bedtime.

Having an inconsistent sleep schedule.

Having light or (negative) noise pollution in your sleep environment.

Finding the root cause of your sleep problems could be difficult. Logging your sleep habits and providing these details to a sleep specialist could help analyze whether you have a clinical sleep disorder. 

In Conclusion

A few clues for when you should reach out and get help from a healthcare provider are:

It takes more than 30 minutes for you to fall asleep.

You regularly wake up multiple times during the nighttime.

You find yourself lying awake for long periods during the night regularly.

You tend to wake up too early and routinely have trouble going back to sleep.

When you wake up to start your day, you regularly don’t feel fully rested.

You don’t need to keep a sleep diary in order to get a good night’s sleep, but if you are having problems sleeping, it could help determine the root cause. Logging your sleep details provides information about your sleep patterns and sleep hygiene which can aid a sleep specialist in identifying and treating a potential sleep disorder, like insomnia. A sleep diary could also help you recognize changes you need to make to your bedtime routine to get a better night’s sleep.