Our behavior every day has a direct impact on our wellness. This behavior includes the way we sleep. A lack of quality sleep each day impairs our health. Because of this, sleep is not an option. It is a critical necessity. Good sleep hygiene behavior promotes wellness. In this article, I will discuss how to use a sleep diary to identify which behaviors we need to get quality sleep.
These days we have computers, smartphones, tablets and all sorts of other devices. Any word processor or spreadsheet will get the job done. Honestly, a basic paper notebook and a pencil is all you need. Whatever documenting method you choose, make sure it is something you can easily access and use at least twice a day.
If you do not want to create a sleep diary on your own, you can download my spreadsheet template. It is set up in a similar style to the mood trackers I post every Sunday. Inside the zip folder, you will find the file saved in many formats since I created it with Open Office.
Each morning when you wake up, document the following:
- Time You Went to Bed
- Time You Woke Up
- How Easily You Fell Asleep
- Number and Duration of any Sleep Interruptions
- Total Hours Slept
- How Rested You Feel Upon Waking
Here are the recommended total hours of sleep for each age group:
Find your age group to see your target range for sleep. Using your wake time as the starting point, count backwards to find your target bedtime.
It is often said waking up the same time every day sets your biological clock. Pay particular attention here to your wake time patterns.
Before the end of the day, document the times and total hours of any naps you took. Your naps become part of your daily total slept.
I realize many providers advocate no naps. But, if they did not have value, they would not recommend them for young children. The point of tracking naps here is to determine if they are disrupting your biological clock.
It will not take long for the trends in your tracker to answer that. It ranges from two weeks to a month for behavioral patterns to start emerging. Possibly sooner if you are neurotypical, but I would imagine it would take at least a week for this population.
Before the end of the day, score the likelihood of you dozing off on a scale of 0-3.
Zero means there was no chance of dosing off while 3 equals there was a high chance of dozing off.
Before the end of the day, document what you took, how much, and when. Include any supplements you take. Include the use of recreational drugs. If you are a smoker, you should add a section here to document how often and when you smoke.
Full disclosure: I smoke, and I do not track this. You will not see this in my trackers, and it is not present in my template either. The reason for this is it boils down to my total lack of interest in changing this behavior. And yes, it does disrupt my ability to fall asleep.
By the end of the day document everything you eat and drink along with the quantity and times consumed. Mark any items containing caffeine and alcohol.
Some foods can make you feel sluggish during the day while others will mess up your ability to sleep well. With some items, like caffeine and alcohol, it depends on when they were consumed.
Exercising here includes all physical activity beyond your norm. Did you have a particularly busy day on your feet? Document it.
Being physically inactive can leave you restless at the end of the day. Excessive activity too close to bedtime can also render falling asleep challenging.
These activities relate to your bedtime routine. Your behaviors during the hour before bed will either promote sleep or hinder it. Particular note here is screen time over stimulating the brain. You may find you need to shut off screens earlier than an hour before bed to allow the brain to relax in time.
Here you will document all contributing factors.
- What is your sleep environment like?
- Was the neighbor blaring their TV or music last night?
- Did you have a particularly stressful day?
- Did your night light die, leaving you with the terrifying darkness?
- Does your air conditioner or heating system make an awful sound?
- Your children or significant other have a terrible night?
- Were you home alone or have guests?
- Were you manic, depressed, or anxious?
The list goes on.
Schedule a time frame for when you will go over the tracker to find trends. You could make your assessment weekly or monthly. Less than a week does not provide you with any actionable information. More than a month is potentially overwhelming to sift through.
Document behavior patterns you see. Compare them up with your outcomes to determine where changes, if any, need to be made. Make one change at a time to simplify the process in determining whether the changes are beneficial.
Disorders like Bipolar inherently include circadian rhythm dysfunction. I find that I often need to make adjustments on a regular basis. With an illness like this one, it is a question of which comes first: sleep disruption or Bipolar episode. For some of us, it is both. By tracking my symptoms, I can predict incoming sleep disruptions and make adjustments.
Sometimes sleep doesn’t improve with behavior management alone. When this happens, we need to see a care provider to address it. Listed below are conditions that often require medical assistance to achieve quality sleep. Click the links provided in the list to read more about them.
Various Conditions that Hinder Quality Sleep
- Short Sleeper
- Child Insomnia
- Insufficient Sleep Syndrome
- Long Sleeper
- Circadian Rhythm Disorders
- Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase
- Advanced Sleep-Wake Phase
- Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm
- Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Rhythm
- Shift Work
- Jet Lag
- Confusional Arousals
- Sleep Terrors
- Sleep Eating Disorder
- REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
- Sleep Paralysis
- Sleep Hallucinations
- Exploding Head Syndrome
- Sleep Talking
- Sleep Movement Disorders
- Periodic Limb Movements
- Sleep Leg Cramps
- Sleep Rhythmic Movement
- Restless Legs Syndrome
- Sleep Breathing Disorders
- Sleep Apnea
- Central Sleep Apnea
- Child Sleep Apnea
- Infant Sleep Apnea
- Mood Disorders
- Chronic Pain
If you have a mood disorder or chronic pain, commit to managing it well to improve your sleep. Good sleep quality increases our ability to cope with these conditions too.
Quality sleep improves our physical, mental, and spiritual health. Sleeping is when the bulk of our physical growth, development, and repair occurs. It is also when we recharge and refresh our minds and spirits the most. By committing to good sleep hygiene, we take a proactive approach to our wellness.
Listed below are the sources used to write this article. Click the links provided to read more about sleep hygiene.
- Research Report on Recommended Hours of Sleep
- National Sleep Foundation
- American Sleep Association – Sleep Hygiene Tips
- Sleep Education – Healthy Sleep
- Circadian Rhythm Fact Sheet
- Bipolar and Sleep
Originally Published on February 21, 2018
* Updated one of the sources link to the archived Wayback Machine’s preserved copy of the page since the original link is now broken. July 03, 2023