Why Sleep Diaries Make Sense for Balanced Lives

May 1, 2018
Eliza Parish

Sleep diaries have recently popped up on our radar for a couple of different reasons…

1) As a great way to make sense of our lifestyle patterns and

2) To offer insight and guidance into another component of healthy balanced living.

There are thousands of sleep studies that examine every angle of sleep patterns, social behaviors, effects of sleep deprivation, etc. the list can go on and on.  But that’s because it is such an important and critical component of our lives and how we function on a daily basis.  If we don’t get our required amount sleep, it could easily prevent you from reaching your full potential on a daily basis, or worse!    In some EXTREME examples, research has shown that sleep deprived employees were likely a contributing factor in numerous international catastrophes:  Chernobyl, The Challenger explosion, Exxon Valdez oil spill, and Three-Mile Island to name just a few (BBC and Huffington Post).  So, on a smaller scale, if you are interested in avoiding a small catastrophe in your day, you might benefit from what a sleep diary can tell you.

What Type of Sleeper are You?

Sleep diaries can help you determine what type of sleeper you are so that you can maximize your productivity.

There are plenty of sleep gurus out there that can show you the latest classification trends of your sleep personality.  It’s apparently trendy to be a sleep animal right now, according to Dr. Michael Breus aka the Sleep Doctor.  Dr. Breus uses 4 animal classifications to determine what type of sleeper you are:  Dolphin, Lion, Bear or Wolf.

This is great, if you enjoy cute animals, (duh), but it’s really not that helpful or relatable.  Also, in reality, male lions sleep on average 20 hours a day so the representative animal correlation is a little unclear.  That being said, it’s still a fun way to categorize your sleep pattern and if you want to find out what type of sleep animal you are, check it out HERE.

Similarly breaking away from the traditional two categories of sleepers:  early birds and later risers, four sleep categories have been identified by the Russian Academy of Sciences.

  • Early risers: individuals who prefer getting up and going to sleep early.  They show higher energy levels between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.
  • Late Risers: individuals who prefer to wake up late and are more alert in the evenings.  They show higher energy levels between the hours of 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.
  • High Energetic: individuals that have high energy the entire day, while also sleeping on average 30 minutes less than the other groups.
  • Always Tired:  individuals that feel lethargic all day, not matter how much sleep they get.

It’s helpful to be aware of your sleep type, especially if you are trying to make some adjustments.  These patterns can be easy to change with a little bit of discipline and some easy tracking of eating and lifestyle habits.

The Super Quick Science Behind Sleep

Being aware of your lifestyle habits can help you track down where you have gone off course from the body’s natural cycle of sleepiness and alertness.  Thanks to the wonders of your brain, there is a built-in internal clock located in the hypothalamus behind your eyes, which regulates your daily body cycles including your sleep/wake cycle known as your circadian rhythm.

Your circadian rhythm is influenced by outside factors like sunlight and darkness.   Your eyes send signals to your hypothalamus when it is dark at night to indicate that it’s time to get sleepy.  In turn, your brain sends a signal to your body to release melatonin to make your body tired.  This is how your sleep cycle is able to coincide with the cycle of daytime and nighttime (National Sleep Foundation).

Relying on your circadian rhythm works great off the grid, but many of us seem to try as hard as we can to disrupt our natural cycle and it can inevitably take a toll on our sleep habits, functionality, and productivity.  It’s not directly or necessarily our fault ALL of the time.  For example life would be pretty hard without lightbulbs, even though they are a culprit in throwing off our circadian rhythm.  Jet lag and shift work, also directly affect your rhythm and can be challenging to your sleep cycle.  We, as humans, have a tendency to override our need for sleep, and really throw ourselves out of whack.  If this applies to you, or if you are trying to hone-in and create a better balance in your life then keeping a sleep diary can really help you to get back on track.

Sleep Diaries and Tracking Your Sleep Routine

Sleep diaries are really easy to keep and provide valuable insight into some of your habits that might be affecting your sleep.  There are many standard sleep diary templates available that you can simply fill in (check out this one from the National Sleep Foundation HERE), along with some great apps and activity trackers that make it super easy to not only track the amount of beneficial sleep at night, but also track your lifestyle habits.

(Check out the Jawbone Up activity tracker HERE).

Tracking your habits will help you identify adjustments you might need to make to get a better night’s sleep and get back on a better routine.  Keeping track of  how much caffeine you consumed that day, exercise, what you consumed 2-3 hours before going to bed, naps, etc., can all be accomplished through a sleep diary and reveal a lot about your habits over time.  Once you have identified the habits that are hindering your good night’s sleep, then you can begin to take steps to adjust and work toward waking up refreshed and ready to take on the day.  WebMD offers 10 tips for getting your body back on a better sleep cycle:

  1. Stick to a Routine – Go to bed at the same time and do the same relaxing activities at night before bed.
  2. Make Mornings Bright – Open the shades, turn on the lights and have your coffee outside.
  3. Keep Nights Dark – Switch off your screens, dim the lights and avoid disruptive blue light.
  4. Work Out – Get in a morning workout, or a less intensive afternoon one.
  5. Watch What and When you Eat – Your food processing organs also follow a clock, eating late throws them out of rhythm, and in turn can throw off your sleep.
  6. Keep Naps Short – If you are getting a sufficient night’s sleep, keep naps to a short 20 minutes.
  7. Limit Caffeine – Cut out caffeine 6 hours before bedtime.
  8. Reach for the Right Sleep Aid – Avoid sleeping pills if possible and try out natural alternatives like melatonin which your body already produces.
  9. Adjust to Your New Time Zone – If you are traveling, try to adjust in advance to the new time zone by moving your bedtime closer to the time you would go to bed there.
  10. Stick to One Shift – Working late or overnight can be rough, try and stick to the same schedule every day/night to ensure you are getting your required sleep (WebMD, 2017).

The adjustments to your routine are typically small and you will be better equipped to take on life’s daily responsibilities. If you want to sustain a productive and balanced lifestyle for years to come, you will need to have the energy and clarity to do so – it’s as simple as that.  The advantages to a good night’s sleep are obvious and your body requires it!

Give your body and brain a little TLC and bask in the benefits! Setup a 30-day sleep diary with MaximusLife automatically by joining one this month’s sleep challenge.