Self-Care During Recovery: How to Keep a Sleep Diary

Photo of young white male writing in a diary while sitting in bed
During the month of February, we’ve been publishing blog posts on the topic of self-care during recovery, with our most recent post on the importance of sleep hygiene. You can read that article here:

Self-Care During Recovery: Sleep Hygiene

In that article, we talk about the fact that sleep can create challenges for people in recovery, especially early in recovery. Some people can’t sleep at all, others sleep too much, and for still others it’s hit or miss: they have good nights and they have tough nights.

One thing that works no matter what your sleep issues are is developing good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene involves a variety of things, but they’re all designed with one goal in mind, which is to improve overall quality of life by improving your quality and consistency of sleep.

And if you’re having a tough time getting your sleep hygiene in order, then one thing sleep experts recommend is keeping a sleep diary, which some people call a sleep journal. Whatever you call it, writing down notes about your sleep hygiene can help you identify the things that may impact your sleep either positively or negatively.

When you can do that, you can improve your sleep. Which, in turn, improves overall health and wellbeing, which itself promotes and supports recovery.

Self-Care, Recovery, and Sleep: How to Keep a Sleep Diary

Some of us have a great memory and can remember details about almost everything, from what they did yesterday to what they did on a random Tuesday when they were in 10th grade. On the other hand, some of us can’t remember what shirt we put on this morning without looking down and checking.

The truth is, though, that most of us are somewhere in between.

We know we had a sleepless night one night last week, but can’t remember which night is was, and we definitely can’t remember if we drank a cup of coffee that afternoon, which may have caused the sleepless night.

The purpose of a sleep diary is to take the guesswork out of the equation and keep a record of all the things that can impact your sleep – positive and negative – so you can connect the dots between your habitual behaviors and your sleep patterns. You can go out and buy a specific sleep journal – like this one – or you can download one of several available for free online, like this one from the National Sleep Foundation.

You can go that route, or you can use a simple notebook from the school supply section at the grocery store. The packaging isn’t important – it’s the content that counts. If you buy a sleep journal, it will have a daily template with a list of questions. If you make your own, use it to answer the questions below every morning when you wake up.

Self-Care Sleep Diary Questions

  1. What time did you go to bed?
  2. How long did it take to fall asleep?
  3. Did you wake up during the night?
    1. If so, how many times?
  4. How many hours total did you sleep?
  5. What time did you get up?
  6. How did you feel when you got up?
    1. Great
    2. Just okay
    3. A little tired
    4. Very tired
  7. If you didn’t sleep well, do you know why?
  8. Did you have a stressful day?
  9. Did you take a nap late in the day?
  10. Did you drink caffeine after 3:00 pm?
  11. Did you drink alcohol close to bedtime?
  12. Did you eat a big meal close to bedtime?
  13. Did you do a hard workout close to bedtime?
  14. Think about the hour before bedtime. Were you:
    1. Watching TV?
    2. Surfing the internet?
    3. Texting?
    4. Playing a game on a tablet?
    5. Reading on an e-reader Kindle-type device?

The goal is to track your progress over a month, but when you keep a diary, you’ll learn about your habits quickly. After a week to ten days, the habits that have either a positive or negative impact on your sleep will reveal themselves.

Knowledge to Action: Self-Care and Sleep

After you track your habits, the next step is to apply what you learn. You probably notice – and confirm – many of the things we talk about in our sleep hygiene blog. Screen time before bed can keep you awake, caffeine late in the afternoon can keep you awake, and exercising too close to bedtime can keep you awake.

However, those are only rules for you if they apply to you. If doing an intense spinning class at 8:00 pm followed by a big dinner at 9:30 pm puts you down like a baby – and you sleep through the night and wake up refreshed, there’s your answer. Make that part of your routine. But if going for a walk before bed and then having a snack energizes you and prevents you from falling asleep, there’s your answer. Don’t make that part of your routine.

Your sleep diary will help you determine what’s right for you. Use it like a scientist uses a lab book. Experiment, keep good records, check your results, revise, experiment more, learn what works – and do more of it. That way, you can create the perfect sleep routine for you: one that improves overall health and wellbeing, but most importantly, promotes long-term, sustainable recovery.

The materials provided on the Pinnacle Blog are for information and educational purposes only. No behavioral health or any other professional services are provided through the Blog and the information obtained through the Blog is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified health professional. If you are in need of medical or behavioral health treatment, please contact a qualified health professional directly, and if you are in need of emergency help, please go to your nearest emergency room or dial 911.