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Eric Suni

    Insufficient or interrupted sleep can have serious health consequences, but sleep problems aren’t always easy to identify. For that reason, a sleep diary is a valuable tool for tracking sleep, monitoring sleep habits, and documenting sleeping problems. Both patients and doctors find information in patient-kept sleep diaries useful.

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    What Is a Sleep Diary?

    A sleep diary is a daily record of important sleep-related information. Although not all sleep diaries are identical, they commonly include details about:

    • Bedtime and/or lights-out time
    • Wake-up time
    • How long it takes to fall asleep
    • The number and duration of sleep interruptions
    • The number and duration of daytime naps
    • Perceived sleep quality
    • Consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and/or tobacco
    • Daily medications
    • Daily exercise

    Sleep diaries are also called sleep journals or sleep logs. These terms are typically used interchangeably, although some consider a sleep diary to be more detailed than a sleep log. Regardless of the name, all of these are patient-recorded methods of tracking information about sleep.

    Sample Sleep Log

    Why Use a Sleep Diary?

    A sleep diary is an important tool for evaluating a person’s sleep. Doctors often request a sleep diary, but some people may use one on their own accord.

    By keeping a record of sleep, the diary makes it possible to calculate total sleep time. A sleep record also helps people identify sleep disruptions and other factors that can influence sleep quality.

    Identifying details about habits that affect sleep can show patterns that help explain sleeping problems. For healthcare providers, the concrete entries in a sleep diary are often more reliable and usable than a general recollection about sleep habits.

    Another way that a sleep diary is used is in preparation for certain specialized sleep studies. A sleep diary can enhance the validity of sleep tests by showing that a person’s sleep is stable in the lead-up to the study.

    How Do You Use a Sleep Diary?

    To keep the most accurate sleep diary, fill it out carefully every day. Many sleep diaries contain one short section to complete in the morning and another in the evening.

    Staying current and updating your diary as you go helps avoid any gaps in your memory. For that reason, you want to keep your sleep diary and a pen in an easily accessible place where you’ll be reminded to fill it out every day.

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

    Doctors usually advise patients to keep a sleep diary for at least one week. You may need to update your diary for two weeks or more, though, depending on how it’s being used.

    If you’ve decided to start a sleep diary on your own, you can decide for yourself how long to keep recording your sleep information and how often to review it.

    Conducting a Sleep Hygiene Check-in With Your Sleep Diary

    If you’re keeping a sleep diary as a personal initiative, you can use it to benefit your health by conducting a check-in.

    As you review your sleep diary, a handful of questions can help you evaluate your sleep:

    • Am I budgeting enough time for sleep?
    • Is my sleep schedule consistent or full of fluctuations?
    • Am I spending significant time lying in bed without being able to fall asleep?
    • Is my sleep disrupted in the night? If so, is there any pattern in the diary that might explain why?
    • Is my sleep satisfying? Do I feel drowsy during the day?
    • Am I taking naps that are too long or too late in the day that could be affecting my nighttime sleep?
    • Is my use of alcohol, caffeine, and/or medications affecting my sleep time or sleep quality?

    As you go through these questions, you can identify opportunities to apply practical tips to boost your sleep hygiene and contribute to your overall wellness.

      When Should You See a Doctor About Sleep?

      If you are keeping a sleep diary and notice that you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, talk with your doctor. Your doctor can review your sleep diary with you and determine whether or not any tests are necessary to diagnose and address your sleeping problems.

      Regardless of if you’ve started a sleep diary, talk with a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

      • Significant difficulty either falling asleep or staying asleep through the night
      • Impaired thinking, attention, mood, or physical performance during the day
      • Excessive daytime sleepiness, especially if it feels like there are moments when you can’t resist dozing off
      • Very loud snoring and/or snoring that involves choking or gasping sounds

      How Does a Sleep Diary Compare With Other Methods of Tracking Sleep?

      Although sleep diaries are frequently used by healthcare providers, they aren’t the only method of tracking sleep. Other methods include:

      • Actigraphy uses a special device worn on the wrist to monitor movement, including sleep. Actigraphy is often recommended when doctors are trying to identify a sleep problem because it offers more objective data than a sleep diary. That said, results from sleep logs and actigraphy are often similar, and sleep diaries are simpler and less expensive. In many situations, doctors may request that patients use both at the same time to get a subjective and objective assessment of sleep.
      • Sleep questionnaires involve subjective evaluations of sleep without the detailed recordings made in a sleep diary. Though potentially useful, sleep questionnaires are typically less precise than a sleep log.
      • Sleep studies, such as a polysomnography conducted in a specialized lab, are necessary for the formal diagnosis of some sleep disorders. Because of the detail it provides, a polysomnography is the gold standard for identifying many sleep disorders, but it is expensive and requires spending at least one night in a sleep clinic.
      • Wearable activity trackers, mobile phones, and other types of consumer sleep trackers can offer data about your sleep. Many of these use the same technology as actigraphy to calculate your daily movement and sleep time. Although these devices can be useful for conducting sleep hygiene check-ins, most have not been rigorously tested to ensure their accuracy.

      Because of its simplicity, low-cost, and broad insight into sleeping habits, the sleep diary remains an important part of recording and measuring sleep that may be used at a doctor’s request or on one’s own.

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      Written by

      Eric Suni

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