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Reasons Why You Should Keep a Sleep Diary

A sleep diary is used like any other diary as a record of events. As you may have already guessed, this particular form of documenting activity is used when people are sleeping at home, which is usually during the night. This practice is not really beneficial for someone with a regular sleeping pattern but may be suggested to a person lacking sufficient sleep, if they have not already been diagnosed with a sleep related disorder.

Diaries, also called logs or journals, have been used for centuries as a way to record information by date. Today, diaries are used for both personal and business purposes. Many people use personal journals as a way of noting down thoughts and memories, or clarifying events of the day. Business logs are generally used to remember meetings and things to do in the future. They can also be used by professionals to book appointments. 

A sleep journal is used as a way to track the following different points:

In what way the person woke up e.g. were they disturbed by a noise, alarm clock or other person? Knowing how you wake up can give insight into what stage of sleep you are in when you awake. It is important to note if a very light noise woke you up, such as the heating system in the house or a light noise outside.

How long was spent lying in bed before physically getting up? Many people find it very hard to get out of bed and this can take any time between a few minutes to an hour. If this takes an hour, it suggests very poor quality sleep but could also be a physical problem if it is affecting the body's muscles.

How did the person feel once they got up? After a good rest, you should feel fresh and alert. Feelings of constant lethargy, fatigue and moodiness are not good signs.


All naps or siestas should be noted in the sleep diary. What time and where should also be documented e.g. was it in bed at 4pm or on the couch at lunchtime? All forms of medication and any stimulants taken, and the time they are consumed, is also logged. Taking sleeping pills, drinking alcohol and/or caffeine are most important to note as these can directly affect sleep.


sleep diaryThe last meal of the day is always put in the sleep journal. What we eat in the evening, or at night, can influence how our bodies feel when we prepare for bed. 

A heavy meal with rich foods can make the stomach feel bloated, sore and uncomfortable. Although everyone is unique and will react differently to certain food types. 

Any activities at night time, or late in the evening, have importance too. Physical exertion may tire out the muscles but will also stimulate the brain. This is not recommended if sleep is planned within an hour or so, as the mind needs time to wind down.

A crucial entry for the sleep diary is how the person is feeling before they go to bed. Are they in a good mood or feeling stressful? If the diary shows that stress levels are high repeatedly, at the same time each night, a calming process of some sort will be suggested. Have you tried progressive relaxation training yet?

What time a person tried to fall asleep and when did actual sleep occur is logged in the sleep diary. Unless being monitored, It is nearly impossible to know 100%  when you fall asleep so a best guess is usually enough for the journal. 

Perhaps the most vital piece of information is to know how many times waking up occurred and why. This can be tricky to note, if very tired, but knowing why you woke up can be beneficial. 

sleep diaryIf the reason was due to a loud noise, then a mild sleep disorder may be the case. 

However, if woken up with shortness of breath or bodily pains, it is quite likely that a physical condition is causing the problem.

It is handy to write all of the latter information in the sleep journal right after you wake up, as you have more chance of remembering any disturbances than if you leave it until later in the day. Any unusual dreams or nightmares should be recorded, in case a psychological disorder is present in the subconscious. You may be unaware of this during the day but repressed feelings could be coming out during your sleep in dream form.

Monitoring Children Using a Sleep Diary

Diaries used to study a child's sleeping patterns depend on the age of the patient. If a doctor has suggested this for a baby, it will just be a matter of the parent's monitoring sleep times. Babies and young infants need much more sleep than adults and their bodies want to sleep. 

If they have a problem sleeping consistently, this could be related to a physical ailment or illness, as their brains have not had the time required to develop a psychological disorder. Older children can be given a fun version of a sleep journal to complete with their parents that will have pictures and forms of interaction.

There is much conflicting opinion surrounding the practice of documenting sleep at home. From one angle, it is believed to be a useful tool that can serve to regulate sleep and form a routine. 

sleep diary10However, many people believe that adult participants will amend results to suit themselves or leave out any details they find embarrassing. It is also thought that the feeling of 'pressure to perform well' could be stressful and keep a person awake longer, as they are aware they need to sleep for a test.

Lastly, it's important to mention that there are certain iPhone applications you can use to record details about your sleep. I personally use "Sleep Cycle" which allows you to record how many hours you slept, at which part of the night you are in deepest sleep, and it gives you a percentage based on the quality of your sleep.

Here's one more summary of the things you should have in your sleep diary:

  • When you woke up
  • How you woke up
  • How many times you woke up during the night
  • How long it took you to get up out of bed
  • How you felt when you got up
  • Your amount of naps during the day
  • What medicine or vitamins you took that day
  • What your last meal of the day was

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