Healthcare professionals who are attempting to diagnose a possible sleep disorder often request a sleep diary from their patients. When considering the words “sleep diary”, its function is not obscure, as it entails composing a diary of sleep habits. However, one might not understand the value these sleep diaries have in the analysis of a sleep disorder.
The sleep diary serves as a simple yet efficient means for gaining insight into an individual’s sleep patterns. Several sleep diaries can be viewed online, as well as in paper formats, but all of them are comparable in terms of the information they request. Most are seen in a chart format and allow for several days of recorded information, oftentimes for a period of 2 weeks. Standard categories of information include:
- Time of latest food or beverage intake prior to bed
- Time of latest significant physical activity before bed
- Time of alcohol consumed during the day and the amount
- Time of caffeine consumed during the day and the amount
- Number of night-time awakenings and their duration
- Number and length of daytime naps
- Time that you start trying to fall asleep and time that you wake up
- Subjective assessment of feelings in the morning such as groggy, alert, well rested, etc.
Australian researchers released literature in 2010 that detailed the use of the sleep journal in the diagnosis of sleep disorders. It is considered one of the primary diagnostic tools for identifying insomnia. Identifying relatively short periods of time to fall asleep or frequent awakenings can indicate other sleep disorders and poor sleep quality. Healthcare professionals can suggest lifestyle changes when looking at the results such as lowering caffeine intake. The at-home format allows for patients to recall information accurately and with little stress as against forms that are supplied to fill out in a waiting room.
Research conducted in 2004 in Australia suggested that patient access to information recorded in an online sleep diary, which allowed for increased self-knowledge of sleep hygiene habits, was shown to improve health outcomes in patients with sleep apnea. Researchers at the University of Rochester in 2007 defined self-monitoring as “awareness of symptoms or bodily sensations that is enhanced by periodic measurements, recordings, and observations to provide information for improved self-management.” This process, when used in regards to sleep patterns, allows for patients to have the chance for mutual decision-making with their physician on the management of their sleep condition. A Georgetown University study in 2010 found that shared decision-making is a significant factor in compliance with treatment plans. This compliance is essential for those suffering from chronic sleep disorders, like sleep apnea or insomnia, which require long-term treatment.
Keeping a fully documented sleep diary is not only valuable for highly trained professionals for diagnosing sleep disorders, but is also advantageous for self-monitoring your sleep health. Without formal training or education, a reasonably smart person can interpret the findings in a sleep diary to notice patterns and discrepancies that elicit inadequate sleep. With these results, you can contact your physician for advice and help with sleep problems or concerns.
Inconsistencies with diary logging can influence the reliability and accuracy of the information. It is common for individuals to forget to write in the sleep diary for a day or two, leading to slight memory impairments as to when foods or alcohol were consumed, or if they were ingested at all. If keeping a sleep log or diary, make sure to be consistent with logging your information and integrate its use into your daily sleep hygiene routine.
Sleep diaries are not only advantageous for your physician, but also for individuals who just want to self-monitor their sleep health. Accurate recording of this information will jumpstart treatment of any sleep disorders, as it may already provide the evidence your physician is looking for. Being on top of your sleep health can greatly benefit you, as sleep has a strong influence on your everyday life.
Sleep Diaries [Internet]. Sleepdex-Resources for Better Sleep [cited 2015 Jan 27]. Available from: http://www.sleepdex.org/diaries.htm
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Blake J, Kerr D. Development of an Online Sleep Diary for Physician and Patient Use. Knowledge Management & E-Learning: An International Journal. 2010;2(2):188-202.
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Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:
Carney, C. E., Buysse, D. J., Ancoli-Israel, S., Edinger, J. D., Krystal, A. D., Lichstein, K. L., & Morin, C. M. (2012). The consensus sleep diary: standardizing prospective sleep self-monitoring. Sleep, 35(2), 287-302.
Monk, T. H., Buysse, D. J., Kennedy, K. S., Potts, J. M., DeGrazia, J. M., & Miewald, J. M. (2003). Measuring sleep habits without using a diary: The sleep timing questionnaire (STQ). Sleep, 26(2), 208-12.
Gaina, A., Sekine, M., Chen, X., Hamanishi, S., & Kagamimori, S. (2004). Validity of child sleep diary questionnaire among junior high school children. Journal of Epidemiology, 14(1), 1-4.