How to Use a Sleep Log to Diagnose Insomnia

If you are evaluated by a sleep specialist, he or she may recommend that you record your sleep patterns with a sleep log or sleep diary. But how exactly is a sleep log used to diagnose sleep problems? Learn how to use a sleep log template to diagnose insomnia, recognize poor sleep habits, and even identify circadian rhythm disorders.

Man awake at night in bed
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What Is a Sleep Log or Sleep Diary?

A sleep log or sleep diary is a paper or electronic record that is used to track your sleep patterns over an extended period of time. Though there is some variation, most sleep logs follow a similar format. There is basic information you need to record for each sleep period, whether you sleep at night or during the day. This might include the following:

  • The date
  • The time you went to bed
  • Estimated time it took you to fall asleep
  • How many times you woke up during the sleep period
  • How long you spent awake
  • What time you woke up for good
  • Whether you felt rested in the morning
  • Daytime naps (time of day, length of nap)

Your healthcare provider may give you a table with boxes that you fill out for each category. Another alternative is a graph representing the 24 hours of each day, and you'll shade in the time spent asleep.

How a Sleep Log Is Used

In general, a sleep log will be kept for several weeks and even months. It is meant to establish a careful accounting of your sleep patterns. This information is useful for a couple of reasons. First, it will make you more aware of your own sleep habits. You may suddenly realize that you simply aren’t sleeping enough, or that your sleep is terribly fragmented, with short periods of sleep scattered throughout the day and night.

Second, the record will be an important complement to your sleep disorder evaluation and a helpful document for your sleep healthcare provider to review. The information will provide objective information about what your sleep patterns are like. Therefore, it is critical to be completely honest and accurate as this will provide the most meaningful information to help establish the appropriate diagnosis.

Sleep Logs May Diagnose Certain Sleep Disorders

Ultimately the sleep log may be useful to diagnose specific sleep disorders. It is often used in people who complain of excessive daytime sleepiness. The sleep log may be helpful to identify insomnia. It may call attention to poor sleep habits, especially a failure to consolidate sleep.

In general, adults should get all of their sleep in an extended sleep period during the nighttime hours. Excessive napping or fragmented sleep with periods of wakefulness will disrupt the body’s natural rhythm. This circadian rhythm may be abnormal in some people, resulting in an early or delayed desire to sleep that might be advanced sleep-wake phase or delayed sleep-wake phase syndrome. By carefully documenting your sleep habits, it may become clear that you are suffering from sleep restriction and simply not getting enough sleep to ​meet your needs.

In most cases, sleep logs can be an inexpensive means to carefully document sleep habits over an extended period of time. This useful tool may be just the thing to identify the potential causes of your sleep difficulties.

2 Sources
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  1. Sleep Foundation. Interrupted sleep.

  2. Watson NF, Safwan BM, Belensky G, et al. Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: A joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research SocietyJournal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 11(06):591-592. doi:10.5664/jcsm.4758

Additional Reading

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.