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Could a sleep diary transform your sleep?

Welcome back to the Sleep.8 blog! Today, our in-house sleep expert Ana Brito explains how sleep diaries work and explains how they can help to improve your sleep. More from Ana below…

Are you getting enough good quality, deep sleep for good physical and mental health? Research suggests that insufficient sleep is at the root of many adverse medical and mental health issues. These studies show that although lack of sleep is widespread across the globe, it is frequently unrecognised and under-reported.
 

Lack of sleep should not be ignored. It can damage your body’s systems, cause cardiovascular problems, increase your risk of diabetes, obesity, depression, impaired cognitive function, vehicle accidents, and workplace accidents. If you believe you are not getting enough sleep, a sleep diary may help you to change your habits.

What is a sleep diary?

A sleep diary (AKA sleep journal or sleep log) is a day-by-day record you make by noting down important information related to your sleep. A sleep diary helps you calculate total sleep time It may include details about:

  • Your bedtime and/or lights-out time

  • What you do when you’re in bed (read a book, use electronic devices, stretch, meditate, physical or sexual activity) 

  • The time you actually fall asleep

  • Wake-up time

  • How long it takes to fall asleep

  • The number and duration of sleep interruptions

  • The number, time of day and duration of daytime naps

  • Perceived sleep quality

  • Any alcohol, caffeine, tobacco you take

  • Any drugs or medication you take

  • Exercise and other activity done an hour or less before you go to bed

  • The interaction of any pre-existing illness or condition you may have (anxiety, depression, chronic pain)

Why use a sleep diary?

There are several reasons you might use a sleep diary. 

1. It will help you understand your sleep patterns and habits

Your sleep difficulties may not be the result of a sleep disorder but may be a result of unhealthy sleep hygiene.  

A sleep diary may help you and/or your doctor identify patterns and links between the quality and quantity of your sleep and your diet, lifestyle, work, and life events. If you have difficulty sleeping, the information in a sleep diary may reveal some unexpected sleep barriers. It may just be that the snooze on the train, or the after-dinner nap you take in front of the television, or while reading a book is stopping you from falling asleep at night. You might learn that checking your texts right before bed, or watching TV in bed, seems to increase the time it takes to fall asleep, or that working, or working-out too close to bedtime makes your brain too alert for sleep, while when you work out a few hours before bedtime you fall asleep more quickly.
 

With a sleep diary, you may notice a pattern that you can correct by making changes after one or two weeks. You can review after another week and see if your sleep pattern has changed for the better.  

2. You may get more proactive about your sleep

Within a short time of starting a sleep journal, you will probably start to think more about your sleep hygiene and how lack of sleep is affecting your life. You may start to prioritise things that promote sleep rather than negatively impact it.

When you start tracking your sleep and your sleep hygiene, the patterns and links you see may encourage you to choose between something that keeps you awake or disturbs your sleep, and something that promotes good sleep.

3. It can assist with correct diagnosis

Identifying barriers and other details about habits that affect sleep can show patterns that help explain sleeping problems. Because you record the data once or twice daily, the entries in a sleep diary may be more reliable and useful than a general recollection about sleep habits. Having a sleep diary that can give your health professional a detailed insight into your sleep problems and can assist them to make a correct diagnosis.

4. The effectiveness of any treatment or changes can be monitored

Keeping a sleep diary before and after you start any related treatment can be very helpful in determining the accuracy of diagnosis and the effectiveness of the treatment.

 

Who should use a Sleep diary?

Anyone can use a sleep diary. Your doctor may ask you to keep a sleep diary to assist with the diagnosis of certain sleep disorders, or you may simply decide to use one to review your own sleep habits. It is important to see a healthcare professional if you believe you are not getting enough sleep, or if you regularly feel tired during the daytime. 

What does a sleep diary look like, and where can I get one?

You don’t have to write in an actual diary or journal. A piece of paper is fine. A formal sleep diary is usually a grid marked with days, dates, headings, questions and space for you to fill in information to make a meaningful record of your sleep, and the things that may affect your sleep. It may be short and simple, or more complex depending on your needs. You might use words, sentences, checkmarks, clock faces, pictures or coloured squares to input the information. 

 

Your doctor or therapist might recommend or provide you with a specific diary that helps you record the information they need to assist you, or they may leave the choice to you. There are many sleep diary templates available online, so you should be able to find one that suits your needs and/or your health professional’s requirements.  

 

How do I keep a sleep diary?

Your doctor or therapist will explain what they want you to do. It is usual to fill out your diary twice daily, morning and evening, for a certain period. You note down everything relevant to your sleep quantity and quality. This may include data such as sleep times, wake times, nap times, exercise or activity, food, water and alcohol intake, drugs and medications, as well as moods, thoughts, feelings and events that may be useful in diagnosing and treating sleep issues.

It’s best to avoid looking at the clock or your smartphone during the night. So, if you wake throughout the night, you can estimate the times you record in your sleep diary. Alternatively, the Sleep.8 Smart Pillow comes with a small bedside monitor which connects to a smartphone app which will give you data in the morning about your sleep, breathing and heart rate, and how often and when you woke up during the night.

Regularly updating your diary helps avoid any gaps. Keep your sleep diary and pen in an easily accessible place where you’ll be reminded to fill it out every day. A sleep diary is not just about sleep quantity, it also helps you focus on all the things related to your sleep. 

Your health professional may instruct you to remove any sleep or activity trackers. If you are using a sleep tracker, you may record the information it generates as extra information. However, you should always note down all of your own information, recollections, and other requested information, and be sure to advise your health professional if you have included data from a sleep tracker.  

If you’re filling out a sleep diary on your therapist or doctor’s orders, make sure to use the form they provide and follow the instructions carefully.

How long will I keep a sleep diary?

People usually keep a sleep diary for at least a week. You may need to update your diary for two weeks or longer depending on how or why it’s being used. If you decide to keep a sleep diary, it is up to you to decide how long to keep recording your sleep information and how often to review it.

What is a sleep diary review? 

Your health professional will go over your diary and test results with you. Once you have a better picture of your sleep habits, you can talk about what areas are helping and what needs change or improvement. The solution might be to adjust your sleep habits, switch your medication, avoid eating or drinking certain things before bed, change your pre-bedtime activities, or treat any health conditions that are interfering with your sleep.

When reviewing your diary, these questions may assist. 

  • Am I giving myself enough time for sleep?

  • Is my sleep schedule consistent, or do I go to bed and wake up at irregular times?

  • How much time am lying in bed without falling asleep?

  • What am I doing before I go to bed? 

  • What am I doing while I’m in bed? 

  • Is my sleep disrupted? 

  • Is my sleep satisfying? 

  • Do I wake up refreshed or tired? 

  • Do I feel drowsy during the day?

  • Am I taking naps? 

  • Is my use of alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, medications or illicit drugs affecting my sleep time or sleep quality in any way? 

  • Can I see a pattern in the diary that might explain when and why I do or don’t sleep well?

 

As you go through these questions, you and your health professional may identify links and see opportunities to make changes to help boost your sleep hygiene and contribute to your overall wellness.

What if keeping a sleep diary does not help?

If you’ve been keeping a sleep diary, reviewing and modifying your sleep hygiene and habits for a while, and still haven’t seen positive results, you should see your health professional. They may recommend a sleep study, refer you to a specialised sleep therapist/sleep coach or investigate other underlying causes that may be affecting your sleep.