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  • Writer's pictureSophie Bostock, PhD

How to use a Sleep Diary to transform your sleep habits

Updated: Jun 5

In this age of wearable tech, the lowly pen and paper sleep diary is often neglected, and yet, of all the tricks and tips to improve your sleep, a simple sleep diary and habit tracker is one of the most effective!

4 Reasons to Use a Sleep Diary

  1. If you want to change anything, it’s helpful to know where you’re starting from. The first week is about measuring the status quo; a baseline to compare back to. Wearables can measure the how long you're asleep, but your perception of your energy during the day is probably the most important metric.

  2. Your sleep might be better than you thought. When we're tired we have a tendency to focus on sleepless nights, and despair that we 'never' get a good night's sleep. When you track your sleep over a week, you may find that the bad nights are more occasional than you realised.

  3. It can help you spot patterns. Do you build up a sleep debt during the week? Do you always sleep poorly before an early morning start? Do you sleep better on days when you exercise? These are all questions that a few weeks of actively monitoring your sleep habits can help to answer.

  4. It can help to wire in new habits. I like to use the same one pager to not only track sleep, but also up to 3 pro sleep behaviours. Every time you tick the box, and celebrate repeating a desired behaviour, it helps your brain to wire in the new habit, and you're more likely to repeat it.

  5. It can help you to improve Sleep Efficiency.. see below!

How to Use the Sleep Diary & Habit Tracker

Print out the template below. Complete it every morning.. ideally within the first 30 minutes of waking up. Leave it next to your kettle or stick it on your fridge where you won't miss it.

  • Fill in your desired wake time and bedtime. Aim for the same time, to within an hour, as many days a week as possible.

  • Add up to 3 desired sleep behaviours you want to track.. e.g. limiting caffeine intake after 2pm, getting outside for a walk in the mornings, practicing relaxation.

  • Monitor your sleep efficiency...

What is Sleep Efficiency and Why Does it Matter?

Sleep Efficiency is a one number summary of the quality of your sleep pattern. It is the proportion of time in bed that you spend asleep. A high sleep efficiency is associated with a positive bed-sleep connection i.e. you spend a lot of your time in bed fast asleep.

To calculate sleep efficiency, you need to answer 2 questions..

  1. SLEEP TIME: How many hours did you sleep for? Not counting time you were awake in the middle of the night, or before you went to sleep.

  2. TIME IN BED: How many hours were you in bed for? This includes time watching netflix before bed, or snoozing, or checking your phone in the morning

Sleep Efficiency (%) = SLEEP TIME / TIME IN BED * 100

So, for example:

- you got into bed at 10pm and got out of bed at 7am, your TIME IN BED = 9 hours

- if you spent an hour on your phone before switching out the light, and another two hours tossing and turning during the night, your SLEEP TIME = 6 hours

- Sleep Efficiency (%) = SLEEP TIME / TIME IN BED * 100

= 6/9 * 100 = 67%

This score leaves room for improvement! Ideally calculate your average sleep efficiency over the course of a week - it will fluctuate from night to night.

An average Sleep Efficiency above 85% is very good, and above 90% is excellent. No-one has a Sleep Efficiency of 100%! It's normal for it to take 20 minutes or so to fall asleep, and to get going in the morning, as well as waking up for short periods during the night.

To improve your Sleep Efficiency, focus on not going to bed until you actually feel sleepy - and not lingering in bed when you're wide awake. You want your brain to associate your bed with sleep and sex - and nothing else.

If you have a Sleep Efficiency below 80% you might want to experiment with going to bed 30-60 minutes later for two weeks, but getting out of bed at your normal time. This will increase your sleep pressure. You will feel a bit more tired before bed, but it will help your brain to re-learn to sleep through the night. This 'Sleep Restriction' approach is counter intuitive, but can be very effective at reducing night time wakening.

2024 Sleep Habit Tracker & Diary
Download PDF • 105KB

If you have a question about your sleep diary data, please feel free to email me a picture of your completed diary and I'll see what I can do.

Looking for more help? To receive a more personalised sleep report, complete this 2 minute Sleep Test..

1 Comment

May 29, 2022

Thank you for this resource. I have a question about time in bed, how does reading a book or kindle effect all this? Should I be reading before bed in another room, not sitting up in bed. I don't use my phone within a half hour of turning off the lights. Thanks!

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