How to Keep a Sleep Diary Tailored to Your Needs

A sleep diary is a useful tool to help you sleep better. Learn how to keep a sleep diary so you can reach your sleep goals.

By Nicole Gleichmann

Do you have a complicated relationship with sleep? Maybe you find it hard to fall asleep or sleep throughout the night without waking. Or maybe you clock 7 hours of sleep each night but wake up so tired that you fight going back to bed all day long.

The first step to fixing your relationship with sleep is to figure out what’s going on.

Enter: a sleep diary.

What Is a Sleep Diary?

A sleep diary is a tool you use to track your sleep patterns and habits. Tracking your sleep is often the first thing that a doctor or sleep specialist will have you do if you come to them with complaints of poor sleep quality or daytime fatigue. This data can be used to find patterns that signal a sleep disorder or habits that could be the cause of your difficulties.

But it is not only those who seek medical advice who can benefit from keeping a sleep journal. The sleep data that they provide can be used without any professional guidance for anyone who wants to improve their relationship with sleep.

Most people will turn to a sleep diary once they already have a problem. For instance, if you find that you aren’t sleeping as well as you used to, daily sleep data can provide insight. You may discover that any level of caffeine leads to restless nights, or that alcohol results in your sleeping less soundly and waking up early.

Some people will use a sleep diary when they foresee a potential sleep disruptor in their future. Record a time when you add in a new over-the-counter or prescription medication that may cause insomnia. By keeping a sleep journal both before and after the new drug, you can see if it has any negative influence on your sleep.

How to Keep a Sleep Diary

If you are ready to track your sleep, you must decide how to do it and what to include. As for tracking method, you can either keep a physical or electronic diary. The benefit of an electronic journal is the potential to keep it in a system like Excel, where, if you are a data nerd, you can create graphs of multiple scenarios to help you see patterns.

As for a physical journal, you can find multiple printable sleep diaries online or create your own. We like this one from UCLA as their system allows you to easily see patterns. However, you might want to track more or less than what is provided to you on these online templates. If you want to create a personalized sleep diary, follow the steps below.

What to Include in Your Sleep Diary

Each sleep diary can be different, including or excluding factors that do not apply. The following are potential factors that you can track:

  • The time you went to bed
  • The time you fell asleep (if you know)
  • How easy it was to fall asleep
  • The time you woke up
  • How many times you woke up during the night and for how long each time
  • What disrupted your sleep during the night (i.e. waking up hot, needing to use the bathroom, your spouse snoring, your infant crying)
  • How you felt when you woke up (tired, well-rested, or energetic)
  • Your caffeine and alcohol consumption during the day (when and how much)
  • Medications that you took and when
  • If and when you exercised
  • The number and duration of any naps you took
  • How you felt during the day (stressed, happy, fatigued, depressed, etc.)

Go through this list and choose any fields that apply to you. Additionally, if you can think of other factors that might negatively influence your sleep, add them in. Have the fields that you’re using outlined up top and track daily underneath. Be sure to include the date, and try not to miss a day. It is best to track your sleep each morning and daily activities each evening, so you do not forget anything.

Using a sleep diary for at least one week allows you to look for patterns. You will usually want to keep a journal until you have achieved your sleep goals or until your doctor has made a diagnosis. Once you are no longer having problems, you can stop tracking your sleep habits.


A sleep diary is a helpful tool for achieving good sleep habits. By taking a few minutes each day, you may be able to improve your sleep, and with it, your overall well being. Talk to a doctor if you find that you have difficulties with sleep that you are unable to get under control yourself. This could be a sign of an undiagnosed sleep disorder.

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