The dark inspires a lot in us. If we weren't fascinated with the night, we wouldn't dance late into it, plot out constellations or tell campfire stories during it. Those are all well and good, but along with those habits, we could do to pick up a bit more interest in one of the more scientific aspects of how we spend our night; that is, we ought to make more interest in our sleep patterns.
To objectively measure anything, you need hard data. Since most of us don't have easy access to a sleep specialist for our restlessness or fatigue, you'll likely be assessing yourself, at least to begin with. In that case, you deserve the best toolkit possible in order to properly pinpoint your issues. One of the most powerful of these tools is the sleep diary.
In short, a sleep diary is essentially just a structured way to keep a record of quantitative and qualitative observations about your sleep, or lack thereof. Your record can track as many or as few patterns and behaviors as you think relevant to your situation. We'll review some of the most foundational you'll likely want to include in yours.
Plainly, the anchor of any productive sleep diary is time measurement. Getting an accurate read of sleep quality begins with a more pointed effort to measure quantity. Note your best estimate of the time you fell asleep, and stay diligent about recording the time you wake. There are plenty of wearable and pressure-sensitive technologies out there that can help you more accurately record the time at which you fell asleep if you desire a higher level of accuracy in this reporting. Timing your stretches of sleep and wakefulness is the best place to start, but insights from those numbers can be enhanced by recording another easy data point in your diary: total time spent in bed.
The gap between your total time in bed and your total time asleep will likely be your first and biggest indicator of any issues you should address in sleep habits. A time gap on the front end, that is, total time spent falling asleep, may be indicative of several things. A bedroom with uncomfortable lighting or temperature control could be contributing to the gap, as could easy access to distractions and computer screens. An older mattress with indentations and pressure points could also be adding to any tossing and turning. A gap on the back end, that is, between waking and getting out of bed, signals a lack of restful, restorative sleep. Obviously, waking up tired isn't uncommon, and could mean any number of things. Another possibility is what you consume throughout both the day and night.
On the subject, monitoring food and beverage intake is another key component of a good sleep diary. We're not just talking midnight snacks here, either. Caffeine consumption throughout the day affects your body and brain. Caffeine's half-life in your system can be up to six hours, meaning an afternoon cup of joe can keep you on your toes well into the evening, when all you want to do is hit the hay. Limit caffeine's hold on you by keeping tabs on it. When you actually force yourself to tally that third cup of coffee, or the energy shot at 2:30 P.M., caffeine seems a lot less appetizing. The version of yourself that aspires to get to bed at a reasonable hour will thank you.
Alcohol is another substance to monitor, and to be wary of in the evening. Alcohol's depressant effects lure many into thinking of it as a sleep aid. It's far from an ideal remedy for sleeplessness, though. Alcohol has been shown to cause anomalies in typical brain activity during sleep. The atypical waves measured in the brains of sleeping drinkers may cut your restorative REM (rapid eye movement) cycles from around seven per night to a mere one or two. Alcohol also dehydrates the body, meaning you may be more prone to wake during the night, and may very well experience the dreaded effects of a hangover the next day. Even without the splitting headache, these side effects largely negate the benefits of restful sleep. In short, alcohol may make it easier to fall asleep, but passing out and getting a good night's rest are far from the same thing. Commit to logging your alcohol consumption in your sleep diary, and it will be easier to develop healthier habits and avoid dependency on the substance.
Again, at the end of the day, it's up to you to be as detailed or as general in your sleep diary as you see fit. Other behaviors that could be monitored include napping during the day, amount and intensity of any exercise, as well as your shifts in mood throughout the day. Take a look at this model diary from the National Sleep Foundation for a great starting point, and add any other behaviors or patterns you think may be relevant to your situation. The aim is to replace generalized notions of, or excuses for the issues in your sleep with measurable data points. On paper, it may sound tedious, but a sleep diary is the furthest thing from just another chore. Think of it as a fun social science experiment you can conduct on yourself. The scientific method always works with careful observation and accurate data recording. With as few as one week to one month's worth of logs, it will be easier to plot trends and make out which habits are conducive to more, productive sleep and which are not. And if you conclude that you need a better place to have that restorative sleep we all crave, think of Bedzzz Express. Sleep well, and happy journaling!