How’s your sleep? The problem with a poor night’s sleep is it can impact our health in many ways, from feeling sleepy during the day, to putting on weight to a weaker immune system. Studies even link poor sleep quality with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and mortality from all causes.
But how can we tell if our sleep isn’t up to stuff? One way is to monitor your sleep quality and observe how it changes over time. Doing this will help you identify patterns that cause you to have a poor night’s rest and feel tired the next day.
Keeping a sleep journal creates awareness of how you’re sleeping and helps you identify patterns and behaviors that affect your sleep. It will also help you identify ways to improve your sleep quality. A journal is something you can refer to again and again, and even share with your healthcare practitioner. Now let’s look at what to include in your sleep journal.
The Time You Go to Bed
The first thing to document in your sleep journal is the time you turn in to sleep. By writing it down, you can calculate how many theoretical hours of sleep you’re getting each night. Of course, awakening during the night can reduce your total sleep hours. So, when should you turn in? The goal is to get into bed early enough, preferably no later than 10:00 P.M. Studies show that turning in earlier is linked with healthier behavior and heart health. Also, head to bed at the same time each night consistently. Consistency matters for sleep quality. Your body slowly learns your chosen sleep time is a signal to relax if you’re consistent.
Time of Awakening
Write down the time you wake up each morning. This gives you a value at the other end, so you can subtract one from the other and determine how many hours you slept. Research suggests most adults need at least 7 hours of quality sleep per night for optimal health. Are you getting that much? Keeping a sleep journal will give you a better idea and help you fine-tune your lifestyle habits to ensure you’re spending enough hours slumbering.
Time You Get Out of Bed in the Morning
You might wake up at a certain time most mornings, but what time do you roll out of bed after awakening? Knowing this is important too. It gives you an idea of how long it takes for you to get rolling after awakening. If you wake up at a certain time and then lay in bed for 40 minutes, you’re probably not getting high-quality sleep or enough of it. Problems getting out of bed in the morning can also be a sign of other issues like low-grade depression. For reference, it takes the average American 24 minutes to get out of bed in the morning and it’s usually after they’ve hit the snooze alarm a few times.
This one’s a little harder to track, but it’s helpful to know how many times you awaken in the night. Frequent nighttime awakenings indicate poor sleep quality and difficulty maintaining sleep. There are two forms of insomnia: problems falling asleep and problems with sleep maintenance or staying asleep. Frequent nighttime awakenings can also be a sign of sleep apnea, a condition where you stop breathing for periods during the night. Sleep apnea can be a serious problem, so it’s important to consult your healthcare provider if you’re waking up more than once or twice during the night.
Mood Upon Awakening
When you wake up, jot down how you feel first thing. Do you feel well-rested, refreshed, or tired? If you feel cranky or excessively fatigued, it could suggest you aren’t getting quality sleep, even if you are putting in the hours. Take a closer look at your sleep environment too. Are you sleeping in a relaxing bedroom, and is the temperature in your bedroom conducive to quality sleep? Experts say a cooler room can help. The ideal room temperature for sleeping is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rate Your Sleep Quality
Also, rate your sleep quality on a scale of one to five. It’s a quick way to compare how you sleep one day relative to another. Look for patterns. Do you sleep better on weekends than on weekdays? Is how well you sleep correlated with factors like exercise or diet? Aim for a sleep quality of 4 or 5. If you’re not reaching that, you may need to amend your sleep habits.
Lifestyle Factors that Could Affect Your Sleep
Leave space in your sleep journal to jot down any lifestyle factors that contributed to your sleep quality. For example, did you eat a heavy meal, eat later than usual, or consume caffeine in the afternoon or evening? Nicotine is another stimulant that can keep you awake at night. Also, write down when you exercised. Studies show that exercise improves sleep quality, but morning workouts have the advantage. So, schedule your workouts as soon as you wake up, or at least before noon when you can.
The Bottom Line
High-quality sleep will improve your physical health, give you more energy, help you be more productive, and improve your state of mind. Sleep is a reboot for your body and brain. Don’t underestimate how important those hours of slumber are. A sleep journal will help you tweak your current sleep habits, so your sleep quality improves. The only way to get the full benefit of keeping a sleep journal is to keep one and review your entries and learn from them. Too often, people buy a journal and forget to write in it. You won’t get anything out of it if you don’t write consistently in it. Now that you know what to write in your sleep journal, why not start?
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Medic G, Wille M, Hemels ME. Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nat Sci Sleep. 2017 May 19;9:151-161. doi: 10.2147/NSS.S134864. PMID: 28579842; PMCID: PMC5449130.
“Study connects early bedtime and ‘adequate’ sleep with heart-healthy ….” https://www1.udel.edu/udaily/2016/apr/sleep-cardiovascular-health-042116.html.
“Keeping a Sleep Diary – WebMD.” webmd.com/sleep-disorders/how-to-use-a-sleep-diary.
“Risks from Not Getting Enough Sleep | NIOSH | CDC.” 01 Apr. 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/emres/longhourstraining/risks.html.
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