Sleep is one of the most important requirements in your life. It has restorative effects that go beyond just waking up feeling alert and ready for your day.
It allows hormones to be produced that reduce depression, inflammation and improve immune function. Good sleep helps regulate weight and can ward off heart disease and strokes.
Though, what if you are having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep?
A sleep diary may be your greatest weapon against insomnia. A wide variety of things can disrupt sleep and a sleep diary can help you find the root cause of many issues.
What is a sleep diary?
A sleep diary is a log of things that happen before, during and after sleep.
If you are consulting a physician who has asked you to keep a sleep diary, he or she will likely provide the type of diary they would like to see. They will give you instructions on how to fill it out and tell you what information is important to them.
However, if you are keeping a log of your own accord, there are many to choose from.
What does a sleep diary consist of?
Getting to sleep and staying asleep are both crucial to quality sleep and when tracking your sleep in a diary, these and many other things are important to note.
Before falling asleep, you will notate things like the last meal you had, what time it is, have you recently consumed alcohol or caffeine, any medication you may be taking and what did you do to help relax you for sleep.
When you wake up, you will list things like how long it took you to fall asleep, did you wake up during the night and if so, how long were you awake, what time did you get up in the morning, and how do you feel once you are awake.
You can find a variety of sleep diaries online to use. Here are a few examples:
There are no “wrong” sleep diaries and you can even make up your own.
Sleep diaries help identify patterns or trends that could uncover the reason you are not getting enough sleep or enough quality sleep.
What do sleep diaries find?
Many people discover that they are not allotting enough time for sleep. They go to bed about seven hours before they must be up, but they are not leaving time for getting ready for bed and time for their body to transition from wake to sleep. It’s important to begin preparing for sleep about half an hour to an hour before you expect to fall asleep.
Another common theme found with sleep diaries are inconsistent bedtime routines.
A bedtime routine is critical for helping your body know that it is time to go to sleep. By going to bed at different times each night, your body doesn’t know when it should begin to get tired. Also, not taking time to wind down before sleep can leave you laying there awake for some time before you fall asleep.
Doing these things regularly can set you up for having little trouble falling asleep.
Another theme a sleep diary often finds are that people are eating or drinking things with caffeine before bed. Yes, dark chocolate counts as caffeine. It is also long been advised to drink certain teas for better sleep such as chamomile or lavender, but not all teas are decaffeinated, so it’s important to check the packaging before you steep.
It may surprise you to find that the reason you don’t feel rested after sleep is a morning wakeup call from Fido that gets you up before your alarm. While you usually manage to get back to sleep afterwards, if it’s only another 15 minutes before the alarm goes off, you are getting up in the middle of a sleep cycle each day which often leads to daytime drowsiness.
Sleep diaries can also uncover sleeping disorders.
If, for instance, you fall asleep, stay asleep and get your recommended seven to nine hours, but you still feel exhausted when you wake up, you may have a sleep disorder.
It’s normal to wake up anywhere from eight to eleven times a night, but you usually won’t remember it. For someone with a sleep disorder, that number could be as high as four hundred times a night and who wouldn’t be tired after that.
Another common sleep disorder that may not be realized without tracking your sleep is restless leg syndrome. This disorder causes an uncomfortable feeling that makes the person want to move their leg to relieve the discomfort, even while sleeping.
So, if you are getting your nightly beauty sleep according to your diary, but aren’t waking up feeling beautiful, you may want to consult a physician that deals with sleep disorders.
Sleep disorders can be diagnosed with a sleep study or polysomnography where the person sleeps in a sleep lab or hospital setting overnight to be monitored by sleep specialists. During a sleep study, a patients’ heart rate, breathing, oxygen and even eye movements are captured. This helps the physician determine if there is an underlying condition preventing quality sleep.
One more thing you might want to consider when using a sleep diary is to document any dreams you can remember when you wake up.
Dreams are often used to process the day’s events, thoughts, and feelings. If you are going through a particularly stressful period, your dreams may be able to help you narrow down what is weighing heavily on your mind. There are many websites dedicated to interpreting one’s dreams which can point you in the direction of things you want to resolve in your waking life.
No matter the reason you choose to start keeping a sleep diary, the most important thing you can do, is be consistent. It’s not going to help you, or your doctors, see possible patterns or issues if you only write in it once a week.