By Dr. Max Hirshkowitz, PhD, DABSM and Patricia B. Smith from "Sleep Disorders For Dummies"
One of the most important tools to give your doctor information when you start the diagnostic process for a sleep disorder is a sleep diary. The information you record in this diary, particularly if you’re faithful and accurate about recording it, forms a scientific record that provides many valuable clues about your sleep patterns. Sleep diaries also help a doctor take your concerns more seriously because she can see the frequency and intensity of your sleep arousals, or how difficult getting to sleep and staying asleep is.
Keep a sleep diary for at least two consecutive weeks (a month is better) prior to your first doctor visit. Record several observations, including
* The time you go to bed and wake up
* Any awakenings during the night and whether you were able to quickly get back to sleep or stayed awake
* Caffeine consumption since noon
* Any medications you’re taking
* Whether you snored (or your bed-partner snored)
* Any emotional, physical, or environmental factors that may have disturbed your sleep, such as stress or a hot room
* Meals, especially dinner and nighttime snacks
* Level of sleepiness
* Sleep quality
* Exercise periods
An easy way to keep track of how many times you get out of bed each night is to keep a bowl of pennies on your nightstand and each time you get up, take a penny out of the bowl and put it on the nightstand. When you wake up in the morning, count the pennies, and you’ll have an accurate assessment of your nighttime awakenings.
The easiest way to maintain an accurate sleep diary is to put it on your nightstand or somewhere nearby. When you wake up, record your observations about your night’s sleep immediately, even before you get out of bed. If you wait until later in the day, you may forget to record the information or you may not accurately remember all the details. Sleep diaries are only effective if they’re accurate so make a pledge to record the information when you awaken, before the demands of your day take you off in a different direction. After all, you only have to do it for two weeks!
Obviously, you can’t hear yourself snore, so ask your bedmate to notate that part of the diary for you. If you don’t have a bedmate who can keep track of your snoring, invest in an inexpensive voice-activated tape recorder that switches on every time you snore.
A sleep diary can quickly show a doctor that something very simple, like caffeine consumption or exercise too close to bedtime, is the probable culprit. Or, if you snore loudly, awaken frequently, cough and gasp throughout the night, and feel drowsy and not refreshed the next day, you may have sleep apnea. Your doctor may see two conflicting prescriptions that you’ve received from two other doctors that are combining to keep you awake. Furthermore, an accurate sleep diary alone may help your doctor determine that you need a sleep study.