Have you been feeling excessively sleepy during the day? Are you having trouble going to sleep at night, staying asleep, or waking up earlier than you'd like? Do you have difficulty concentrating or staying focused while at work or school? Do you need caffeine to keep you awake and alert? Does the sleep you do get feel unrestorative, or as if it's just not enough?
If your quality of sleep constantly feels like it's just not adequate enough, it's possible that you may have a sleep disorder. And if you feel like you may have a sleep disorder, you're probably going to need to have a sleep study to discover the root cause of your nightly troubles.
Talking with your primary care physician or a sleep specialist about your difficulties with sleep is critical to getting a sleep study performed to find out just what is going wrong. And more than likely your physician will ask you to keep a sleep diary for at least two weeks so he can figure out why you may be having trouble sleeping.
If you want to get ahead of the curve, start keeping a sleep diary as soon as you begin to recognize a problem. It can only help to expedite the process towards proper diagnosis and treatment.
What is a Sleep Diary?
A sleep diary is a record of a patient's sleep patterns and habits that can be extremely useful in helping doctors make a diagnosis of a sleep disorder and better determine if a sleep study should be prescribed.
Over the course of at least two weeks, patients record information such as:
What time the patient went to bed
The amount of time it took to fall asleep
What time the patient left the bed in the morning
Number of times patient awoke during the night
How refreshing overall sleep was
What may have disturbed patient's sleep (breathing troubles, leg movements, insomnia, etc.)
Number of caffeinated beverages consumed throughout the day
Number of alcoholic beverages consumed throughout the day
Medications taken during the day
Time spend exercising
Activities performed within an hour of bed
You can get a free copy of a sleep diary by clicking the link below
Why Should You Keep A Sleep Diary?
1. It will give you a better idea of your sleep patterns and habits
Sometimes your sleep troubles aren't actually the result of a sleep disorder, but just bad sleep habits. Drinking too much caffeine after your lunch hour, drinking alcohol regularly before bedtime, or just having bad sleep hygiene in general can keep you from sleeping well. Quite often patients have a sleep study without adequate information into their nightly habits and get diagnosed with Insufficient Sleep Syndrome, which is basically having terrible sleep as a result of voluntary (albeit unintentional) behaviors that impact their sleep negatively.
If you start to notice a negative pattern that could be corrected by your own choices, make changes after a week and see how your next week goes. If there is a vast improvement to your sleep, you may be able to correct the behavior yourself and avoid having an unnecessary sleep study.
2. You will get proactive about your sleep
Within a short time of keeping a sleep journal, you'll quickly start to think about the importance that sleep can have on your life and be more diligent in doing things that promote sleep rather than deter from it. By looking at your sleep patterns and habits you may notice that you often have a few caffeinated beverages before bedtime and make the switch to chamomile tea, tart cherry juice, or almond milk, which help promote sleep. For more on foods and drinks that promote sleep click here.
You may also start to recognize that each time you drank alcohol before sleep, it may have helped you go to sleep quicker, but you awoke more frequently during the night, and your overall sleep was un-refreshing.
Or you may notice that the days that you performed physical activities or worked out were followed by great sleep, and start performing these activities more regularly.
All in all, when you start keeping track of your sleep, you start to care about your sleep, and do more of the things that promote it, and fewer of the things that keep you from it.
3. It can help your doctor give you a proper diagnosis
Lets say you've kept the diary for a few weeks, made changes in your sleep habits, but still haven't seen positive results. In this case you will want to present your sleep diary to your primary care physician or a sleep specialist during a consultation.
Like we stated earlier, doctors can at time give the wrong diagnosis or recommend the wrong course of action for sleep troubles. This is seen often in women who have sleep apnea, but get treated for insomnia instead. There's a few reasons for this misdiagnosis: One is that doctors that are not specialized in sleep disorders have a preconceived notion of what a sleep apnea patient looks like: middle aged, overweight male with a > 17 inch neck.
Women's sleep apnea symptoms are often milder than men's as well with lighter snoring, more subtle breathing cessations, and shorter apnea events. Also, men (unfortunately) are less likely to notice their bed partner's sleep habits, so women are less likely to even know they have breathing problems at night.
Another reason for possible misdiagnosis is due to patient reporting. They may mention other symptoms such as fatigue, trouble staying asleep, or mood disturbances, which may get a diagnosis of insomnia rather than sleep apnea or another sleep disorder.
Having a sleep diary that can give the doctor detailed insight into your problems can mean the difference between proper diagnosis and misdiagnosis.
4. You can monitor the effectiveness of your treatment
If, for instance, your doctor believes you have sleep apnea and you have a sleep study that confirms his suspicions, you will most likely be given treatment in the form of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy.
Many patients find CPAP therapy a little difficult in the first few weeks and may opt to quit treatment because they find it tough to tolerate the air pressure.
If you're struggling with your treatment there are a lot of tips and tricks you can do to make it easier. However, we also recommend continuing your sleep diary for the first few weeks of therapy. While you may have difficulty getting used to treatment, if you compare your post-treatment diary to your pre-treatment diary, you may be surprised to see how effective it has been, and it can be very encouraging to continue treatment, especially when you can see the results in fine print.
If you've been keeping a sleep journal for a while now, and still haven't seen positive results, you may want to consider the next step: having a sleep study. If you live in Alaska and want to see if a sleep study is right for you, contact The Alaska Sleep Clinic by clicking the link below for a free 10-minute phone call with a sleep educator who can help determine if a sleep study is necessary or if a consultation with our sleep specialist needs to be scheduled.