Sleep Diaries – How Important are they?

by | Sleep

sleep diary

Keeping a sleep diary is beneficial for overall wellbeing. Sleep-related health issues are one of the major medical issues of our time. Insufficient and interrupted sleep has serious health consequences. Unfortunately, sleep problems aren’t always easy to identify and often we don’t even know we are suffering from them until someone else tells us or it has serious affect on our waking hours and a doctor diagnoses us. 

For these reasons keeping a sleep diary is very important. It will help you track and monitor your sleep habits and document any sleep problems. A sleep diary is useful for both patients and doctors.

What Is a Sleep Diary?

A sleep diary is just that, it’s a daily record of important sleep-related information. A typical sleep diary should include things such as:

  • Bedtime – when you enter your bed to sleep
  • Wake-up time
  • How long it takes to fall asleep
  • The number and duration of sleep interruptions – spouse or sleep clinic can help with this
  • The number and duration of daytime naps
  • Perceived sleep quality
  • Daily consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and/or tobacco
  • Regular medications
  • Daily exercise

You may have come across other terms such as “sleep journals” or “sleep logs”. These are all the same and the terms are often used interchangeably and all are methods of tracking information about sleep.

Why Use a Sleep Diary?

Another way that a sleep diary is used is in preparation for certain specialised sleep studies. A sleep diary can enhance the validity4 of sleep tests by showing that a person’s sleep is stable in the lead-up to the study.


For doctors, a sleep diary is extremely helpful in diagnosing a persons sleep. More often not a doctor will ask you to keep a sleep diary before diagnosing you if you approach them for any health issues related to tiredness, lack of energy, mental focus clarity etc, as well as a host of other issues. Sleep is a critical part of our wellbeing and lack of it affects several aspects of physical and mental function as well as our ability to fight infections. 

A sleep diary is used is in preparation for certain specialized sleep studies.

For healthcare providers, the concrete entries in a sleep diary are often more reliable and usable than a general recollection of sleep habits. A sleep diary can enhance the validity of sleep tests by showing that a person’s sleep is stable in the lead-up to a sleep study


You can use a sleep diary to stay on top of your sleep and awake times. People use a sleep record to identify sleep disruptions and other factors that can influence their quality of sleep.

A sleep diary will help identify patterns and habits that affect your sleep, help you create better sleep habits and generally fix anything you are able to, to ensure you get a good nights sleep.   

How Do You Use a Sleep Diary?

Fill out your sleep diary everyday and in detail. This will give you the most accurate and honest reflection of your sleep habits. A lot of pre-prepared sleep diaries have allocated sections for evening and morning log ins.

Keeping accurate daily logs will make sure you avoid any gaps in your memory. This will give you a clear picture of what needs to be improved and what you are doing well. Keep a pen and your diary next to your bed for ease of access as the first thing when you wake up and last thing before you get into bed. 

Chances are if you doctor has asked you to keep a log they he/she would have provided you with a prepared form – use those ones. Your doctor will also advise you know long they want you to keep the diary for and what aspects to focus on, amongst all the other points discussed above.

If you’re keeping a sleep diary for your own self-assessment, you can decide your own length of time and process of review and improvement.

Sleep Environment Checklist

Having an environment conducive for sleep is essential for a healthy sleep routine. A proper sleep environment is one that is disconnected from the area of work and other non-bedroom activities. Your bedroom is purely for rest and personal time. A sleep diary will eventually help you identify distractions that you could remove form your bedroom.

Because of Covid-19 most of us are now working from home and it is easy to slip into the habit of working, relaxing, going and watching telly, all from the comfort of your bed, or in your room. It is essential for you not to do this and create a habit where you have designated spaces for different activities.

There are some very simple ways to turn your bedroom into a sleep environment, some of the basic concepts are:

  • Keep the temperature of your room between 15-20 degrees celsius
  • You can use earplugs or noise cancelling devices if you live in a busy noisy neighbourhood (or if you’re a light sleeper). This will ensure you have uninterrupted sleep through the night. 
  • Our body responds to lack of sun/light by winding down to sleep. Use blackout curtains to create a dark sleep conducive environment. If this isn’t possible you can also use a sleep mask.
  • Make your bed every morning, getting into a made bed is the best thing before falling off to sleep. 
  • Make a habit of cleaning your sheets and blankets on a regular basis.
  • You can also use incense or essential oils to create a relaxing atmosphere in your bedroom with the help of aromatherapy.

You should note the above in your sleep diary as a checklist and tick them off to ensure you’re covering the basic grounds.

Conducting a Sleep Hygiene Check-in With Your Sleep Diary

As you become regular with using your sleep diary it will help you greatly to start checking off a some questions to ensure you’re getting the best outcome you can. Some of the questions you can ask are:

  • Are you allocating enough time for sleep?
  • Is your sleep time consistent or full of fluctuations
  • Do I spend a long time lying in bed without being able to fall     asleep? If yes, how long?
  • Do I sleep consistently or do I have interrupted sleep?
  • If yes, is there any pattern in the diary that might explain why?
  • Is your sleep efficient and reenergising?
  • Do you feel drowsy during the day?
  • Are you taking naps? What time of the day or evening are you taking naps? Do these naps affect you ability to sleep on time at night?
  • Is my consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and/or medications affecting my sleep time or sleep quality?

These questions will help you identify areas where you can improve your sleep hygiene and contribute to your overall wellbeing. You can keep the above list as a weekly of monthly checklist in your sleep diary to make sure you don’t slip out of habit.

Routines For Morning And Night

A good nights sleep actually starts as soon as you wake up. Most of us don’t pay enough attention to our “waking up routine” – don’t worry, that’s another article. The morning is how we enter our day and set ourselves for how our day will end. It is important to get a good start, and create a consistent routine. In fact how you wake up, or what you do after entering your information into your sleep diary should also be noted down so you can re-asses after some time to see if your change in sleeping pattern has affected how you face the mornings.

You must focus on winding down and avoiding stimulating situations and foods and drinks in the evening. This includes but is not limited to electronics, bright lights, loud music, watching movies or documentaries that make your mind excited and engrossed, heavy food and liquids as you bedtime – ideally 60+ minutes before bedtime. 

To ensure you keep following these guidelines, take the following into account:

  • Wake up around the same time everyday – this plan isn’t just for the weekdays. Follow it on weekends so you don’t make it harder on yourself come Monday. 
  • Give your body two full hours to wake up – like everyting, your body needs time to warm up, instead of rushing off and shocking your system. 
  • Make sure to get vitamin D. Our body runs optimally according to the natural cycle, getting sunlight awakes the body and mind, not to mention the benefits of Vitamin D. If it’s particularly overcast and grey, use bright lighting. Speak to your doctor about taking vitamin D if you think you may be lacking in it.
  • Avoid caffeine and coffee after 2pm.
  • Naps are only for early afternoon and shouldn’t be more then 15-20minutes.

When Should You See a Doctor About Sleep?

If keeping a sleep diary and fixing your sleep environment doesn’t get you the results that you need, that is the time to talk to your doctor. They can’t review your sleep diary with you and determine whether or not any tests are necessary to diagnose your sleeping problems. 

From here they can advise you what steps you should take to resolve your issues. If you have any of the following difficulties see your doctor regardless:

  • difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep through the night
  • Impaired thinking, attention difficutlies, mood fluctuations , or physical performance issues during the day
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness, 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?

Some of the other methods used by medical practitioners and sleep doctors include:

  • Sleep questionnaires to evaluate the pattern and duration of your sleep. These aren’t very in-depth nor as precise as your own sleep diary.
  • Sleep studies to formally diagnose sleep disorders. The test is done using as a polysomnography, this test provides a high level of detail and is considered the gold standard for identifying many sleep disorders. It is expensive and requires spending at least one night in a sleep clinic.
  • Wearable activity trackers, Smart phones and watches and specifically designed sleep trackers can offer data about your sleep. While they are useful for conducting sleep tracking, their accuracy is questionable and shouldn’t be relied on for more particular issues. 

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.