Keeping a Sleep Diary

Sleeping is just as important to survival as eating, drinking, and breathing. But for people suffering from insomnia, getting enough sleep can range from challenging to impossible. Although the cause may seem elusive, in many cases, simple detective work can figure out the root of insomnia, and simple behavior changes can fix it. The secret is to keep a diary—but not the kind you used in seventh grade. This is a sleep diary, used to record specific observations about your sleep patterns, and very useful for sharing with your doctor so that he or she can help you get some sleep. Here is how to keep a sleep diary:

Print out this article, and place it in a notebook of your choice. Starting with today's date, label seven consecutive pages (one for each day). Keep your notebook and a pen by your bed.

Spend a few minutes (before you go to sleep) briefly answering the following questions. Do this each night for the next seven days.
  1. What time did you wake up today?
  2. What time are you lying down to go to sleep?
  3. What, if any, was your bedtime routine?
  4. What were the last food(s) you consumed tonight? (Include type, amount, and time you ate.)
  5. Did you exercise today? (Include the type, duration, and time of day if you exercised.)
  6. Did you consume any alcoholic beverages today? (Include type, number, and time of day.)
  7. Did you consume any caffeinated drinks or foods today? (Include type, number, and time of day.)
  8. Did you take any medications (prescription and/or over-the-counter) today? (Include type, amount, and time of day.)
  9. Did you take any naps today? (Include number of naps, duration of each, and time of day.)
  10. What types of stressors did you encounter today, and what types do you expect to encounter tomorrow?
  11. How hungry did you feel today? (1- Not hungry, 2- Normal hunger, 3- Strong hunger, 4- Extreme hunger)
  12. How awake did you feel today? (1- Exhausted, 2- Somewhat tired, 3- Fairly alert, 4- Wide awake)
  13. How irritable did you feel today? (1- Calm, 2- Slightly annoyed, 3- Moderately irritable, 4- Highly irritable)
Next, draw a line of Zzz's across the page beneath your answers to these questions. When you wake up, answer the following questions below your "sleep" line:
  1. How long did it take you to fall asleep last night? (This may be an estimate.)
  2. How many times did you wake up during the night? (Include times you woke up and how long you stayed awake.)
  3. In total, how many hours did you sleep last night?
After a week of keeping your sleep diary, you may see an obvious pattern that you can self-correct—like ditching your three nightly espressos, finding ways to combat stress to better relax, or exercising earlier in the day. But if you try making modifications and still have trouble catching your Zzz's, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor for more suggestions. The two of you can work out a plan to help you sleep soundly in no time.