As we get a little older, many of us find ourselves having trouble sleeping. The good news is that using a sleep diary can help us to get the rest that we deserve.

Why Do We Have Trouble Sleeping?

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to fixing our sleep patterns is that sleep is a largely subconscious process. We don’t really pay much attention to it until something goes wrong. Then, when we do notice something wrong with our sleep, we tend to blame it on “getting older,” “stress” or another similarly vague concept.

In reality, sleep is a complex process. As a result, it is influenced by a surprising number of factors, some of which we have control over and some of which we don’t. For example, as we get a little older, our sleep patterns have a tendency to “shift” forward. This means that we get sleepy and want to wake up earlier. Other factors, which we have more control over, include when we take our medications, how much alcohol we consume, how much exercise we get and even when we eat our last meal.

With so many factors at play, it can be difficult to determine exactly what is causing your restful nights. Are you too hot? Are you getting up to go to the bathroom several times a night? Are you taking your worries to bed with you? Perhaps all three? Do you even remember what happened 2 or 3 nights ago?

The best way to get the information you need to improve your sleep patterns is to use a sleep diary. Here’s how it works.

What is a Sleep Diary and How Can it Help?

A sleep diary is simply a record of your sleep patterns for a week or more. There are many different formats, but, typically, you keep track of how many hours you sleep and, if you had any problems sleeping, what kept you awake. You may also keep track of factors like whether you exercised and what you ate.

The first benefit of keeping a sleep diary is simply that it makes you more conscious of your sleep patterns. For example, you may notice that on the days that you exercised, you slept an average of 30 minutes longer. Or, you may discover that on the day that you ate spicy food, you slept less.

The second benefit of having a sleep diary is that it is an excellent tool to take to your doctor. Armed with more information, he or she may be able to help you determine if there are simple ways to improve your sleep. For example, some medications have a stimulating effect on the body, which may make it harder to sleep. With your doctor’s permission, you may be able to take the more stimulating medications earlier in the day.

How to Create Your Own Sleep Diary

There are plenty of fancy sleep diary formats out there. One of the best, in my opinion, is the one that the National Sleep Foundation produced. That said, you can also create your own diary fairly easily. All you have to do is write down your answers to the following questions every day for at least one week. Two weeks is probably better as it gives you a more representative set of dietary choices and behaviors.

Today’s date

When did you go to bed today?

How long did it take you to get to sleep?

How many hours did you sleep?

How many times did you wake up during the night?

Were there specific reasons that you woke up?

How rested did you feel when you woke up?

When did you eat your last meal? What did you eat?

How many alcoholic or caffeinated beverages did you drink within 6 hours of bed?

How much did you exercise today?

Did you take a nap during the day? For how long?

Did you take any medications? When did you take them?

It may feel like this is a lot of information to collect, but, in reality, filling in your sleep diary should take less than 5 minutes. If you think about how much time you spend in bed, tossing and turning, this is really a fantastic use of your time.

Once you have a good idea of some of the factors that may be impacting your sleep, I encourage you to check out our other sleep articles. We have covered topics from how to create your own sleep sanctuary to what not to consume before bed. I hope that they help you to get the restful sleep that you deserve!

Have you created your own sleep diary? Did it help you? What additional things have you tried to get better sleep? Please join the conversation.

Let's Have a Conversation!