How to Create a Sleep Diary
The Sleep Diary is a simple but effective way of getting insight into a person’s sleep patterns and habits. All it is is a record of when the person went to bed and when he or she woke up. More data can be included, but there is no fixed official format of what the diary must contain. Some things you might want to record are:
- Time of last food/beverage intake before bed
- Time of last significant exercise (physical activity) before bed
- Time and amount of alcohol consumed during day
- Time and amount of caffeine consumed during day
- Number and duration of nighttime awakenings.
- Number and length of naps during the day
- Subjective evaluation of how you felt in the morning – e.g. groggy, alert.
You may be told to keep a sleep diary by a therapist or doctor or you might just want to keep one for your own benefit. It doesn’t take a highly trained professional to get some insight from a sleep diary.
Other things you can do with your sleep diary:
- Compare your sleep patterns when you are on vacation to when you are not.
- Compare your sleep patterns between summer and winter
- See how medication or a change in sleep hygiene (new pajamas, darker shades) affects your sleep.
- Evaluate the effect of room temperature on your sleep
- Evaluate the effect of over-the-counter antihistamine sleeping pills
How long should you keep the diary? Again: No right answer. The most important thing is to keep the record every day during the period you are keeping the diary. A minimum of a week is probably necessary to see any pattern (two weeks is more likely), but after a month or so there is little point to continuing unless there are ongoing changes or things you are testing.
Interpreting a Sleep Diary
Even with no formal training or experience, a reasonably intelligent person can use a sleep diary to find patterns and make useful observations. The benefit of having a sleep professional (doctor, psychologist, nurse, sleep technician) look at the diary is that they have experience looking at the diaries of a lot of people and have developed an understanding of what clinical sleep disorders correspond to what sleep diary entries.
The accuracy and integrity of sleep diaries is always in doubt because people don’t remember what they did or ate during the day or becasue they forget to write in the diary until a day or two later. Further, what we do when we are asleep escapes us.
You can’t necessarily believe what people report about how much they slept last night. Tests with actigraphy have found that in general people overestimate how much they sleep.
Here is a Sleep Diary in PDF form: Sleep Diary – PDF