sleep scientistWhat good is keeping a sleep diary, Lawrence wrote to Ask The Savvy Insomniac recently, when all it’s going to do is confirm what I already know? Insomnia is my problem—I’m lucky if I get 5 hours a night. Exactly how am I going to benefit if I find out that Monday night I slept 4 hours and 45 minutes and Tuesday I slept 6 minutes less? A colossal waste of time that I can see. Besides, clock watching tends to make my insomnia worse.

It might seem pointless—and like a whole lot of bother—to keep a sleep diary when you’ve lived many years with insomnia and know its shape and contour like the back of your hands.

But I think it’s a valuable investigative tool. Not only can keeping a sleep diary give you a more realistic picture of how much and how soundly you sleep. It can also help you zero in on habits that may be interfering with—or helping—your sleep. You can then adjust your habits accordingly.

How a Sleep Diary Works

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has a good sleep diary that you can download here. The task is to keep the diary for two weeks, noting every day when you do the following:

  • Go to bed (Don’t look at the clock after going to bed)
  • Sleep (Estimate the time you fall asleep), including time spent napping
  • Take medicine
  • Drink beverages with caffeine
  • Drink alcohol
  • Exercise.

You might also want to note how well rested you feel each morning.


Tracking these variables over a two-week period may reveal quite a lot. In addition to discovering what your average total sleep time is (which may or may not be surprising), you might find that drinking a second cup of coffee at noon is OK, but a second cup at 2 p.m. tends to keep you up too late. Or you might discover that exercise helps you sleep more soundly. I did.

Now to be really scientific about this, you’d have to test these variables one at a time. One week, keep a sleep diary and vary the amount or timing of the caffeine you drink. The next week, vary the amount or timing of the alcohol. And so forth.

But for me personally, since I’m mostly a creature of habit, the amount and timing of the things I do doesn’t vary all that much from one day to the next. It’s the activities and habits that DO vary that may afford insight into how to avoid insomnia and improve your sleep.

Getting scientific about things can sometimes help.

Have you ever tried keeping a sleep diary? What, if anything, did you learn?

Posted by Lois Maharg, The Savvy Insomniac

Lois Maharg has worked with language for many years. She taught ESL, coauthored two textbooks, and then became a reporter, writing about health, education, government, Latino affairs, and food. Her lifelong struggle with insomnia and interest in investigative reporting motivated her to write a book, The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep. She now freelances as an editor and copy writer at On the Mark Editing.

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