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What is a sleep diary and why you should keep one

Do you find yourself constantly feeling tired, or telling friends and colleagues how little sleep you had last night? If your sleep is continuously disrupted, despite trying all the tips and tricks in the book for getting adequate zzz’s, it’s possible that you could have a sleep disorder such as insomnia or narcolepsy.

But how do you know when it’s just a rough patch and when it’s something more serious? A sleep diary can help.

What is a sleep diary?

Problems with sleep can be difficult to track and identify—especially when the effects of sleep deficiency often leave you with brain fog or difficulty focusing! A sleep diary allows you to track your sleep without relying on your memory. By keeping tabs on important information such as how and when you sleep, you’ll get a more reliable overview of your symptoms and sleep patterns.

Your sleep diary can be as simple or detailed as you or your doctor need it to be. The main goals are to track your sleep, monitor your habits, and document any sleeping problems.

This can be done by tracking:

  • Evening routines (ie. how late you work or use a screen, or the last things you do before going to bed)

  • Bedtime

  • The time you wake up and get out of bed

  • The time it takes you to fall asleep

  • The quality of your sleep (ie. did you wake up feeling refreshed or have the sense that you hardly slept at all?)

  • Details of any interruptions to your sleep (time, length, source of disruption)

  • Time and length of daytime naps

  • Daily exercise 

  • Details of alcohol, caffeine, or tobacco consumption or other food or drink that can impact your sleep

  • Medications and supplements taken

The benefits of keeping a sleep diary

By keeping a daily record, you can gain insights into patterns and symptoms over time, leading to many benefits.

1. You can better understand your sleep patterns, habits, and issues

Sometimes difficulty with sleep is caused by poor sleep hygiene or habits that go unnoticed, like caffeine or alcohol before bed, or too much screen time late in the evening. Keeping a sleep diary can help you identify habits that might be affecting the quality of your sleep, and make changes to address them. This way, you might also be able to avoid a more in-depth sleep study or making uninformed decisions about supplements or solutions that don’t address the underlying issue.

2. You’ll start making better choices around sleep

Simply by taking note of the ins and outs of the way you sleep, you might start to make more considered decisions that affect your quality of sleep. By paying attention, you’ll start to notice how important sleep is to overall health and start to make choices that support sleep, rather than hinder the importance that sleep can have on your life and be more diligent in doing things that promote sleep rather than hinder from it.  

3. It’s a valuable tool for diagnosis and treatment

A sleep diary makes it much easier for your doctor, sleep coach or sleep specialist to make a thorough assessment, an accurate diagnosis, and an effective treatment plan. Often, doctors will request that you keep a sleep diary to track key information, but you can start straight away before you’ve even consulted a specialist, so that when you do, they can already gain insight into your symptoms and habits. 

Similarly, once you’re on the treatment path, you’ll be able to track how you respond to different changes in behaviour or medication. Comparing your data from before and after treatment will give you valuable, measurable insights into what does and doesn’t work for you over time.

Start a sleep diary today!

If you’ve got ongoing sleep problems, why not start a sleep diary today and start tracking some basic information about how and when you sleep? It’s up to you what data you wish to track to begin with, take a look at the list provided above, think about the symptoms or habits you feel could be most relevant, and choose some points that make sense to you and go from there. If you choose to see a sleep coach or specialist, you can also ask for guidance on what factors are most important for you to keep track of.

If your symptoms are affecting your daily activities, be sure to seek professional advice. 

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