How a sleep diary can transform how you feel

Feeling run-down? Grab a pen and paper and start tracking what might be getting in the way of your good night's rest. And get back to your more-resilient self.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Are you one of the 3 in 10 U.S. adults who don't get enough sleep?

If you are, here's some unexpected advice: Dust off your diary.

To learn what's keeping you up at night and robbing your resiliency, do a little reflection (on paper) for about two weeks. You may be surprised by what you learn.

Here is what to track in your "sleep diary."

  • The time you went to bed
  • The time you actually fell asleep, if known
  • How many times you woke up during the night
  • How long, each time, it took you to fall back asleep
  • The time you woke up in the morning
  • How many naps you took that day, and how long each lasted
  • The medications you used
  • How much caffeine or alcohol you drank

Reviewing this information on your own may reveal some unexpected sleep barriers. Reviewing your diary with a doctor will help you work together to improve your sleep habits and boost your overall health and resiliency.

We all need a reminder about why good sleep is critical

Falling into a deep sleep essentially "reboots" your body, repairs tissue damage and restores energy. Getting enough quality ZZZs every night can help you bounce back after an illness both emotionally and physically.

Depending on what your diary tells you, here are the top six habits to check on if you're struggling to get the sleep you need:

DON'T use alcohol for a sleep aid. Wine, beer or a cocktail may help you relax and feel sleepy. But with booze you lose the ability to fall into a deep, restorative sleep. Alcohol before bedtime doesn't necessarily help you sleep better or longer.

DO check your meds. When cold and flu season hits, you may be tempted to try an over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold product to calm your symptoms. But many medications can keep you from getting good shut-eye. Always check the ingredients first. Some OTC cold medicines may have more caffeine than an 8-ounce cup of coffee.

DON'T skimp on sleep then try to catch up on weekends. Adults need at least seven hours every night to stay resilient and healthy. Consistency is the key! You can't "catch up" on sleep on the weekends.

DO go to bed and get up at the same time every day. You might be tempted to sleep in on the weekends, but try to stick to the same sleep schedule. Doing so makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up. For optimal sleep, create a relaxing bedtime routine and keep your bedroom cool, around 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit.

DON'T check text or email messages before bed. The blue light from electronic screens keeps your brain from releasing melatonin, the brain chemical that makes you feel sleepy. So, you might have a harder time falling asleep. Blue light in the morning, however, can pep you up and may reduce daytime sleepiness.

DO exercise regularly, but time it right. In general, regular exercise helps you fall asleep better and get more quality ZZZs. But sleep experts suggest you save vigorous routines for the morning or afternoon instead of the evening. Revving your heartbeat too close to bedtime might wind you up, instead of down. Moderate-intensity exercise in the morning, on the other hand, promotes deep sleep.

Do yourself a favor and make your sleep (and tracking when things go wrong) a priority. You may feel like a whole new you.

March 06, 2018 See more In-depth