How to keep a sleep journal.

writing2It may seem an odd thing to say, but managing sleep (especially when you don’t get enough of it) is a bit like managing your money or your weight.  Making a budget or a plan starts with working out how much you’re eating/spending, or in this case sleeping, at the moment.

In this article we’re going to look at how to keep a sleep journal.  Keeping a sleep journal will help you understand what might be causing you problems where sleep is concerned – whether your problems are insomnia related or sleep disorders such as tiredness or night terrors.

What do I record in my sleep journal?

In the sleep lab, doctors start their sleep studies by asking their patients to use a sleep journal.  The example here comes from Stanford University’s sleep lab, devised by pioneering sleep researcher Dr William Dement.

In your sleep journal, record your total sleep time.  It’s hard to know exactly how long you spend asleep, unless someone is watching your brainwaves in the lab, so look at:

  1. The time you go to bed
  2. The time you fall asleep (roughly)
  3. When you wake in the morning – check the clock.
  4. Plus any wakenings when you sleep  – check the clock.
  5. And any naps you take during the day.

Add up the amount of time you’re spending asleep at the moment.

Also record how alert you feel during the day. The Stanford Sleepiness Scale will help:

Degree of Sleepiness Scale Rating
Feeling active, vital, alert, or wide awake


Functioning at high levels, but not at peak; able to concentrate


Awake, but relaxed; responsive but not fully alert


Somewhat foggy, let down


Foggy; losing interest in remaining awake; slowed down


Sleepy, woozy, fighting sleep; prefer to lie down


No longer fighting sleep, sleep onset soon; having dream-like thoughts




See for more information about Stanford University’s sleep research.

6. Note the caffeine (tea, coffee, cola etc) and alcohol that you drink.  You can mark these as ‘C’ or ‘A’ in your sleep journal.

7. Record any exercise that you take during the day and the time you spend outdoors in daylight.

8. What are your bedtime routine activities?  What did you do, for how long, etc, what’s on your mind.  Write these in your sleep diary also.

9. Make a note of the drugs (prescription, over the counter and recreational) that you take.

10. Record your moods, stress levels and anything that’s worrying you.  Talk to your sleep diary as if it were a friend.

11. You might also want to record your dreams in your sleep journal, especially if they are frightening or you’re having nightmares.  There is an article dedicated to dream journaling here.

Review your diary at the end of each day and summarise it.

  • How relaxed do you feel?
  • How anxious, sleepy etc were you?
  • Are there any patterns that you notice over the days and weeks?
  • Can you find any answers to your insomnia/sleep problems that you haven’t noticed before?

Use your sleep journal as a discussion tool if you are seeking help from a sleep professional or analyse it yourself to see where you can improve aspects of your waking life that will give you better sleep.

Elspeth Raisbeck

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