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The Untold Value of Keeping a Sleep Diary

By: SleepScore Labs  |  November 11th, 2021

How can you tell what’s been going on with your sleep? One way to tell is by keeping a sleep diary. You may be more used to using a diary to track your habits or simply journal about your day. But a sleep diary may help you keep track of your sleeping habits and even help you trace what may be influencing the changes in your sleep pattern. 

The best part? A sleep diary is free, easy to use, and customized to fit into your daily routines. While a sleep diary is a great way of keeping track on your own perceived sleep, it’s important to remember that most people are notoriously poor at recalling their own sleep habits. It’s for these reasons we often recommend a sleep monitor, like the SleepScore App, to non-invasively and objectively track your sleep (so you don’t have to!). If you’re interested in your own perceived sleep, however, a sleep diary is a great place to start to track your own sleep habits.   

What is a sleep diary? 

A sleep diary—paper or digital—is a record with entries on your sleep habits and other relevant personal information to help you understand your sleep health.  

It is a useful tool for identifying changes in your sleep habits, why these changes exist, how long they’ve been existing, and appropriate intervention for your case. According to the Journal, Sleep, sleep diaries are the gold standard for measuring subjective sleep.  

So, how long should you keep a sleep diary before you can rely on the information in it? A 2017 study suggests that a person needs at least five weekday nights of sleep diary entries to assess this sleep-related information accurately: bedtime, wake time, how long it takes for a person to fall asleep, and sleep duration. 

According to an older study, some of the pros of using a sleep diary for tracking sleep are: 

  1. It’ll uncover changes in a person’s sleep.
  2. It’s a feasible way of measuring sleep improvements when receiving treatment.
  3. It may also track the order in which relevant events happen .
  4. There won’t be missing information in a person’s report because they fill out information as soon as they happen.  

How do you use a sleep diary?  

A sleep diary is helpful to sleep researchers and doctors to learn about a person or group’s sleep health.  Also, a sleep diary may reveal sleep patterns and daily habits and how they play a role in how much restorative sleep you regularly get.  

It contains important questions that a person is supposed to log to uncover relevant insights about their sleep.  

For your sleep diary to be reliable and effective for its purpose, try to fill it out every day. Also, consider keeping it close to you at all times so you can log in relevant details in real-time when you can.  

You can create your sleep diary or download a templated sleep diary or sleep tracking app, like the SleepScore app. In the app, you can easily log your day and see trends over time. If you’re using a sleep diary based on your doctor’s recommendation, they may give you a sheet to log or recommend one for you.  

Typical details a sleep diary may ask you to log every morning include: 

  1. The time you went to bed 
  2. The time you got out of bed 
  3. The number of times you woke up at night 
  4. The time you woke up at night 
  5. The time you fell asleep 
  6. The time you eventually woke up 
  7. The number of times you stood up from your bed at night 
  8. How you’d rate your sleep quality for each night 
  9. How long you slept 
  10. How refreshed you felt after waking up in the morning 

The sleep diary may also include details about your daytime activities that may affect your sleep quality at night, which you are to fill before going to bed. It may ask: 

  1. How physically active you were during the day 
  2. Whether or not you took a nap 
  3. Your nap times and duration 
  4. Whether or not you took alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or medications 
  5. How much of these substances you took and at what times 
  6. Your energy levels during the day 
  7. What you do before bedtime  

This information gives you a comprehensive insight into sleep patterns and what influences them.  

The benefits of a sleep diary on our nights and daily life  

Studies suggest that this subjective method of assessing sleep by using a sleep diary is an “accurate and feasible method to screen for sleep problems” and track improvements in sleep during treatment. Similarly, another study suggests that a sleep diary is reliable for collecting self-reported sleep/wake information.  

A sleep diary allows you to self-report sleep-related information, learn about your sleep patterns, make relevant changes to your daily routines, and incorporate new healthy habits that may help you get a good night’s rest.  

If you’re simply curious about your sleep, want to improve how often you get a refreshing night’s sleep, and increase your daytime energy levels, keeping a sleep diary may be an excellent place to start.  

Your sleep diary may also help your doctor check whether you have a sleep disorder, how long you’ve had it, and recommend treatment as needed.  

Should you give one a try? 

Diaries are free, easy to use, and reliable for tracking any kind of habit. Whether or not you should use one depends on your current sleep status; i.e. if you’re having trouble sleeping well, looking for patterns to understand your sleep health, or just looking to optimize your routines before and after bedtime. But, as we mentioned earlier, we humans are notoriously bad at remembering our own sleep through a sleep diary, so an objective sleep tracker like the SleepScore App or SleepScore Max is a more accurate (and preferred) measure to both track and help you understand your entire sleep picture.  

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