Keeping a Sleep Diary

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2020

One of the tools you and your doctor may use to diagnose your sleep problems is called a sleep diary. A sleep diary is simply a record of your sleep habits. It can play an important role in helping you understand why your sleep is not restful.

A sleep diary may help you realize that you are drinking too much caffeine, eating too late, or sleeping in a room that is too hot. Or, it can help you talk with your doctor if the reasons for your lack of sleep are not so easy to spot.

How to use a sleep diary

First, print out a sleep diary, or download one on your phone or desktop. You should keep it someplace which makes it easy to remember to fill out the information every morning and evening. Try to provide as much detail as possible so that your doctor gets an accurate picture of your sleep habits.

Morning notes for your sleep diary

Generally, your doctor will ask you to track your sleep habits for 1 to 2 weeks. Most sleep diaries should include a daily morning record of:1,2

  • What time you went to bed
  • Whether you feel asleep easily, after some time, or with difficulty
  • Number of times you woke up
  • How long it took to go back to sleep
  • How many hours you slept in total
  • Whether you felt refreshed or tired when you woke up
  • Whether you had a headache when you woke up
  • How much caffeine you consume
  • If you use a sleep aid
  • How much alcohol you consume

You should not stress about remembering exactly how many minutes you slept or how long it took to sleep. A sleep diary is meant to give you and your doctor a general idea of what’s going on. It is most helpful if you fill it out right away when you wake up, and again before you go to sleep.

You will also be asked to note if you:

  • Had bad dreams
  • Went to the bathroom
  • Whether pets or a partner woke you
  • Felt pain that woke you
  • Ate a heavy meal, smoked, or drank alcohol close to bedtime

Be ready to talk with your doctor about where you sleep. Many things can make good sleep difficult, such as:1,2

  • Noise, temperature, and light in the room
  • Television, phones, and other devices in the room
  • Comfort of the mattress, pillows, and bedding
  • A snoring partner or restless pets

Evening notes for your sleep diary

At the end of the day, you will be asked to track different things that may contribute to poor sleep. These items include:1,2

  • Whether you are sleepy or tired during the day
  • How many naps you took and for how long
  • Whether you dozed off in the middle of any activity
  • How much exercise you got
  • How many caffeine drinks you had
  • Whether you took any medicine
  • What you did 2 to 3 hours before bedtime

Where to get a sleep diary

Many sleep diary apps exist for iPhone and Android phones. Plus, many fitness trackers, such as FitBit, Samsung, or Garmin, include a sleep health monitoring function. However, some studies show these devices are not very accurate.2

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