What can a sleep diary do for you? This method of journaling can help you and your doctor identify a possible sleep disorder and even determine ways to overcome it so you can enjoy that revitalizing, healthy rest that’s been eluding you.

There are a variety of sleep disorders—ranging from minor annoyances to serious conditions. For example, those with insomnia have difficulty falling or staying asleep, and those with sleep apnea have abnormal breathing while sleeping. Others may experience persistent grinding of the teeth (bruxism), night terrors, or sleepwalking. Still others may experience other parasomnias that involve unnatural and abnormal movements or behaviors during sleep or between sleeping stages.

To accurately diagnose and effectively treat sleeping disorders (or simple issues with your habits that may be affecting your rest), doctors need all the help they can get—and that includes information about what you experience when you’re not in their office. That is why they often recommend that a sleep diary be kept; several weeks worth of logs can give your doctor the most accurate picture of what may be going on.

Important Things to Record in a Sleep Diary

With such a wide range of possible sleep disorders, it’s easy to see why first and foremost, the regular and detailed recording of daytime and sleeping habits can help the patient and doctor pinpoint the nature of the sleep disturbance. Here, some things to note:


  • What time you wake up for good
  • Whether or not you feel rested when you wake
  • New aches or pains not felt the previous night, especially jaw/tooth aches

During the Day

  • Amount of caffeine consumed (type, amount, what time was it)
  • Amount of alcohol consumed
  • Stressful events (what types and do you expect them to persist tomorrow)
  • Exercise (what, at what time and for how long)
  • Daytime naps (time of day, length of nap)
  • Any medications taken, whether they worked and how they made you feel the next day

At Night

  • What time you went to bed
  • Last foods eaten before going to bed, including amounts
  • Estimated time it took to fall asleep
  • How many times sleep was disturbed plus how long it took to fall back asleep
  • Total time spent sleeping
  • If you had any teeth-related dreams

Stay Committed, Accurate, and Detailed in your Journal

Maintaining an accurate and consistent sleep diary is vital if you want to get to the bottom of your sleep disorder and eventually attain the appropriate therapy and medications from your doctor to treat it, if needed.

Don’t worry about deciphering what your logs mean as you write them. It’s the knowledge that can be gained from regular keeping of a sleep diary that can help you and your doctor best identify patterns and concerns, helping shape the best way to react to them.

By being diligent about updating your sleep diary throughout the day, you can also begin to realize what is inside and outside the realm of your control. If you miss a night, you run the risk of overlooking an important piece to the puzzle, so do your best.

All this record keeping may seem daunting at first, but once you make it a habit, it will become much easier. Always keep the goal of achieving adequate, sound sleep and improving both your mental and physical health in mind.

By Daniel P. McGoldrick


American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Available at http://www.aasmnet.org/. Accessed June 7, 2011.

MedlinePlus: A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. From the National Institutes of Health. Available at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/sleepdisorders.html. Accessed June 6, 2011.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 22 Jun 2011

Last Modified: 03 Mar 2015