Are you currently dealing with sleep problems? If so, you’re not the only one, but a simple sleep journal (also referred to as a sleep diary, can prove instrumental in helping you identify and resolve your sleep issues.

Poor sleep is endemic in the United States, with more than 160 million Americans — or about half of the country — suffering from some form of sleep trouble.

There are a variety of sleep disorders that contribute to this, including insomnia, sleep apnea and narcolepsy. Frequent snoring and inconsistent sleep habits — often made worse by work-induced stress and the demands of raising a family — are also factors; Tens of millions of Americans simply don’t get enough sleep.

One recent study found 36% of people get less than 7 hours of sleep each night, which is the most often recommended minimum amount needed for a good night’s sleep.

These issues, ranging from mild to severe, can manifest themselves in a number of ways.

Whether you’re unable to focus at the office, find it difficult to fall asleep at night or have trouble staying awake during the day, sleep problems can derail your day-to-day life.

Compounding matters, frustration can set in when these sleep problems aren’t diagnosed. This is a real issue in the U.S., where about 70 million people suffer from undiagnosed sleep disorders.

Luckily, we are learning more each year about how to best treat prominent sleep disorders. And in particular, there’s one easy tool that helps both patients and their doctors better understand the problems they’re dealing with — a sleep journal.

What Is a Sleep Journal?

A sleep journal is a journal that tracks your sleep patterns and habits. At its core, a sleep journal aims to document key data, including when a person goes to sleep, when they wake up, and if they are dealing with sleep disturbances during the night.

This offers a healthy foundation for determining potential sleep disorders, but a good sleep journal will note more. Information on your diet, exercise regiment, and how your body feels at certain points in the day will all go a long way towards helping your doctor make an accurate diagnosis.

If you’re looking to set up your sleep journal template, here are several data points that are worth including:

  • When you went to sleep
  • Estimated time it took you to fall asleep
  • How long you slept for
  • How many disturbances did you experience during the night and for how long?
  • What time did you wake up
  • What you ate during the day
  • Did you use electronics immediately before bed?
  • Did you drink alcohol, and if so, how much and when?
  • Did you take a nap and if yes, how many naps you take and how long they last?
  • How did you feel at certain points during the day, especially upon waking up?
  • Sleep conditions, including the temperature in your bedroom
  • Note what you wore to bed
  • Did you drink caffeine, and if so, when and how much?

You can keep track of these habits in a notebook; many people also take their notes and transfer them to Microsoft Excel to make it easier to spot patterns. If you’re looking for a simple sleep journal template, Sleep Centers of Middle Tennessee offers a PDF version you can use; it’s available here.

These notes, after a few weeks time, create a comprehensive look at a person’s sleep schedule — something that is useful for review to discover patterns and potential issues when actively working on figuring out sleep problems.

Here are the 4 top ways keeping a sleep journal can improve your sleep:

1. A Sleep Journal Helps You Identify (Potentially Troublesome) Sleep Habits

An accurate and comprehensive sleep journal can help you better understand your sleep habits. A good sleep journal shines a light on habits that are so ingrained you may have not realized they are contributing to your poor sleep.

Common habits that lead to poor sleep include drinking caffeine within a few hours of going to bed, and drinking alcohol before bed, which inhibits melatonin production, a regulator of the body’s internal clock.

It’s important to identify these trends. Often enough, a sleep journal acts as a process of elimination. When you note your habits and avoid poor ones — like drinking alcohol right before bed or exercising late at night — you can identify if your habits were the cause of your discomfort.

2. A Sleep Journal Leads to a Better Diagnosis

A sleep journal helps doctors determine the cause of their patients’ sleep problems.

Having a patient track their sleep patterns is typically the first step towards diagnosing a disorder. A doctor is unable to follow a patient 24/7, so having them keep a sleep journal offers insight into the patient’s problems beyond having the doctor merely ask about their discomfort.

The more data you collect and share with your doctor, the easier it is for your doctor to provide you with good guidance.

For example, symptoms of insomnia, like morning grogginess, an inability to fall asleep at night and daytime fatigue and irritability, will usually be noted in a sleep journal.

Symptoms of sleep apnea, including loud snoring, morning headaches and a diminished sex drive, will also be picked up by thorough sleep diaries. This is critical information you doctor will need and can be used to augment a formal sleep study.

In short: keeping a comprehensive sleep journal helps provide a better diagnosis.

3. Your Sleep Journal Can Refine Your Treatment

A sleep journal doesn’t need to end when a diagnosis is made. In fact, you shouldn’t stop tracking your sleep after a diagnosis.

Continuing to monitor your sleep habits after a diagnosis will help both you and your doctor understand whether the best path forward has been selected.

Have your habits improved since taking a new medication?

Has PAP or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy helped you get better rest and feel better when you wake up?

By continuing your sleep journal after your diagnosis, you can chart how effective your treatment is. If improvement isn’t noticed, it’ll allow your doctor to refine their diagnosis or adjust your treatment.

As one study put it, “this knowledge leads to greater patient understanding of their circumstances and can lead to a potential increase in patient, physician-collaboration.”

4. You Will Get Better Sleep By Avoiding Unnecessary Roadblocks

A sleep journal is worthwhile even for those not suffering from a sleep disorder. If your goal is to get better rest in general, a sleep journal will help you get there.

Time-strapped adults and entrepreneurs have turned to sleep diaries to help them maximize their sleep schedules. By tracking how much sleep you’re getting and how you are feeling during the day, it helps to point out bad habits that can be removed.

After a few weeks time, trends will emerge: using the phone immediately before bed, or eating a large meal within two hours of falling asleep. These are textbook examples of habits that do not lend themselves to quality, sustained sleep.

By spotting these patterns and removing them from your routine, you can work towards a better night’s sleep. This comes with a number of health benefits, including better focus at work, less fatigue during the day, and a stronger libido.

Start Your Sleep Journal Today

If you’re dealing with lingering fatigue during the day or you’re unable to fall asleep at night, it could be a sign of a sleep problem that needs to be — and can be — fixed.

But to tackle your discomfort head-on, information is essential. A thorough accounting of your sleep habits will help your doctor identify the issue and put you on a treatment plan. And even for those who are not suffering from a sleep disorder, but simply need to fine tune their rest, a sleep journal is worthwhile.

If you’re looking for a starting point for your sleep journal, you can try these 5 tips to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Implement these tips into your daily schedule and remember to track in your journal how much they help.

Starting today, you can use the sleep journal example above (choose what you want to track) to create your own journal to note your sleep habits. You can also try the sleep tracker from our website. Download here now.

This could be the first step towards getting a good night’s sleep on a consistent basis!