About 1 in 3 American adults don’t feel like they are getting enough sleep, according to the CDC1. Due to so many people’s dissatisfaction with their sleep, doctors and sleep experts are constantly coming up with new ways to assess sleep patterns and address problems.
A sleep diary is a great way for you to keep track of your sleep patterns and habits. We’ll discuss what a sleep diary is and how to use one, the benefits of this journaling technique, and we’ll also provide you with some other sleep hygiene tips.
What Is a Sleep Diary?
A sleep diary2, also known as a sleep log or sleep journal, is a place where you can record information about your sleep every day. As time goes on, you can compare different nights of sleep and see patterns in your sleep2. A sleep diary is a form of sleep hygiene3, which is a collection of good sleep habits that improve your sleep.
How to Keep a Sleep Diary
You may be wondering, what do I even write about in my sleep diary? Do I fill it out in the morning or at night? While some of this is subject to your personal decisions or the sleep log you choose to fill out, UNC Chapel Hill recommends the following2:
During the day, make note of:
- What time you woke up
- The total number of hours you slept
- Using a 1-5 scale, how rested you feel when you wake up
- Whether you exercised today and when
- Where you napped and when
- Whether you consumed any alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine, and if so, when and how much
- Whether you took any medications or drugs in the evening, and if so, when and what type
- What time you ate
At night, try answering the following questions2:
- “What time did you go to sleep?”
- “How long did it take to fall asleep?”
- “How many times did you wake up during the night?”
- “What caused you to wake up during the night?”
How to Start a Sleep Diary
If you want to start logging your sleep, you can download a template, like our sleep diary template. This way, you have a laid-out method to record information about your sleep.
We recommend filling out your diary for at least a week4 before looking for patterns in your sleep. However, the longer you fill it out, the more accurate the patterns you observe should be.
Benefits of a Sleep Diary
It Can Help You Identify Changes You Should Make
Even if you feel like you sleep pretty well, starting a sleep diary may help you make slight changes to your sleep schedule, like going to bed earlier or reducing your caffeine consumption before bedtime. While these changes are not huge, they could impact your sleep for the better.
Simply being able to keep track of the number of hours you sleep every night or the number of times you wake up throughout a night are great ways to assess your overall sleep quality.
It Can Help You Identify a Sleep Disorder
One of the most influential ways doctors have used sleep diaries is to identify sleep disorders5 such as insomnia. A 2018 study6 found that a sleep diary “is low cost and adds subjective information that cannot be gathered from actigraphy. Therefore, use is recommended to continue alongside actigraphy.”
What is Actigraphy?
Actigraphy is another method to assess sleep cycles and patterns. This methodology is non-invasive, and if you choose to partake in actigraphy, you’ll wear a watch-like device on your non-dominant hand, according to Stanford Health7. This device monitors movement, which demonstrates your sleep-wake patterns8.
Actigraphy is a more objective way to measure sleep patterns and thereby identify and diagnose sleep disorders, compared to a sleep diary7. Yet, a sleep diary is still a useful, more subjective measurement to be paired with actigraphy.
It Can Help You Prepare for a Sleep Study
Oftentimes, when someone is experiencing irregular sleep patterns, their doctor will suggest a sleep study, which is a test used to diagnose sleep disorders. Keeping a sleep diary before you partake in a sleep study will provide you and your doctor with more information to get the most accurate diagnosis. Again, a sleep diary is a somewhat subjective measure, but it’s even more helpful when paired with a more objective sleep study.
Other Sleep Hygiene Tips
Keeping a sleep diary is a great way to promote your personal sleep hygiene, but you might be curious about other good sleep hygiene habits.
Here are some ways you can improve your sleep hygiene aside from sleep journaling3:
- Avoid blue light before bedtime.
- Create a calm, quiet, dark, cool sleeping environment.
- Establish a routine so you’re going to bed and waking up around the same time every day.
- Be active during the day, so your body is tired at night.
- Try not to eat, drink alcohol, or drink caffeine close to your bedtime.
Last Word of Advice
So, do we recommend a sleep diary? Yes, we think sleep journaling is a fantastic method to self-assess your sleep patterns, and it’s also a great way to keep track of information for your doctor.
Now that you know what a sleep diary is, you should be able to decide if this sleep hygiene habit is a choice you’d like to make. Whether you’re preparing for a sleep study, using actigraphy, or just want to know more about how you’re sleeping, keeping a sleep journal is a great way to boost your sleep hygiene. Don’t forget to download our sleep diary template so you can begin your sleep log journey.
Emma is an Editorial Intern for Sleep Advisor. She collaborates with the editor and staff writers to come up with article ideas, create article outlines, and write for the website.
- “What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency?”. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Last modified March 24, 2022. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-deprivation.
- “Keeping a Sleep Journal”. The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Campus Health. Webpage accessed July 21, 2024. https://campushealth.unc.edu/health-topic/keeping-a-sleep-journal/.
- “Tips for Better Sleep”. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Last modified September 13, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/sleep_hygiene.html.
- Short, Michelle A., Arora, Teresa., et. al. “How Many Sleep Diary Entries Are Needed to Reliably Estimate Adolescent Sleep?”. National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28199718/. 2017.
- Carney, Colleen E., Buysse, Daniel J., et. al. “The Consensus Sleep Diary: Standardizing Prospective Sleep Self-Monitoring”. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3250369/. 2012.
- Lawrence, Geoffrey., Muza, Rexford. “Assessing the sleeping habits of patients in a sleep disorder centre: a review of sleep diary accuracy”. National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29445542/. 2018.
- “Actigraphy”. Stanford Medicine Health Care. Webpage accessed July 21, 2024. https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-tests/s/sleep-disorder-tests/procedures/actigraphy.html.
- Martin, Jennifer L., Hakim, Alex D. “Wrist Actigraphy”. National Library of Medicine. June 1, 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3109647/.