Do you wake up earlier than you’d like or have trouble falling asleep at night and staying asleep? Are you excessively tired throughout the day and/or having difficulty concentrating at work or school? Do you rely heavily on caffeine to keep you awake? Does the sleep you do get feel restorative, or does it feel inadequate? If you said “yes” to any of these questions, there is a chance that you suffer from a sleep disorder.
If a sleep disorder is suspected, there will likely come a time when you will have a sleep study performed to really get to the root of your sleep problems. Talking to your doctor, or one of the sleep specialists at the Valley Sleep Center, about your bedtime difficulties, is the first step to getting a sleep study performed and discovering what exactly is disturbing your slumber. It is likely that your doctor will have you keep a sleep diary for at least two or three weeks. This will help them better understand where you are coming from and help them in their diagnosis. It wouldn’t hurt, however, to start a sleep diary as soon as you recognize that there is a problem with your sleep. Good documentation will help accelerate the process leading up to diagnosis and treatment.
What’s a Sleep Diary?
Sleep diaries are a record of your sleep patterns and habits. They are tremendously helpful in helping doctors determine if a sleep study is needed and helps make a proper sleep disorder diagnosis. Over a period of at least two to three weeks, you will record useful information like:
- Activities you perform within an hour or two of bedtime
- What time you went to bed
- How long it took for you to fall asleep
- How many times you woke in the night
- What, if any, sleep disturbances did you experience (leg movements, insomnia, trouble breathing, night sweats, nightmares, etc.)
- What time you left your bed in the morning
- How refreshing your sleep was
- How many caffeinated beverages you had during the day
- How many alcoholic beverages you had during the day
- How many times you dozed off or nearly dozed off during the day
- What your mood was like throughout the day
- How long your nap was if you took one
- What medications you took
- How much time you spent exercising
You can download a sample of a sleep diary from the National Sleep Foundation here.
Why You Should Keep a Sleep Diary
Sleep diaries give you a better understanding of your sleep habits and patterns. Occasionally sleep troubles aren’t the result of a sleep disorder, but rather bad habits. Drinking too much caffeine after noon, regularly drinking alcohol before bedtime, or just having poor bedtime habits can keep you from sleeping well. If you notice a negative pattern in your diary, make some changes and see how things go. If you notice an improvement in your sleep quality, a sleep study may not be necessary and you can correct the problem on your own. If you have made the necessary adjustments and are still struggling, then you know that there may be a deeper cause to your sleep struggles.
Keeping a sleep diary makes you proactive about your sleep. While keeping a sleep diary, the importance of sleep will become more evident and you will gain a better understanding of how the things you do throughout the day affect your sleep quality. You will be better able to promote healthy sleep habits and avoid activities that keep you from sleep. Your diary may open your eyes to the fact that maybe you are consuming too much caffeine too late in the day, and you will then be able to try and cut back. It will also show you how though that glass of wine before bed helped you to fall asleep faster, you woke more throughout the night than on nights you did not partake. You may notice that on days you were more physically active you had a better night’s rest then on the days in which you did very little, and so on.
It helps provide you with a proper diagnosis. Your doctor will gain a better understanding of your sleep patterns and troubles with a well-documented diary. Sleep disorders can be difficult to diagnose as many of the symptoms are similar throughout each condition. One simple note in your diary can change your diagnosis from insomnia to sleep apnea.
You will be better able to observe the effectiveness of your treatment. After your diagnosis, we recommend continuing your sleep diary for the first few weeks of treatment. You may find any adjustments you are making difficult to get used to, and comparing your post-treatment diary to your pre-treatment diary will help minimize your frustrations when you see how effective the treatment has been.
If you have kept a sleep journal for a while and made lifestyle adjustments accordingly with little results, it may be time to take the next step: having a sleep study. Schedule an appointment at one of the Valley Sleep Center’s five convenient locations for a sleep consultation with one of our board-certified sleep physicians today.