Most of us only start to think about sleep when we have a problem. Until then, we are happy to go to bed and wake up refreshed. Problems such as insomnia may develop over a period of time, or be triggered by a single event.
Whatever the cause or the problem, few people assess the quality of their normal sleep so it is often hard to work out what is wrong. Most of what we now know about sleep comes from research into sleep disturbances such as insomnia.
Many people feel they are not getting enough sleep. ‘I haven’t slept a wink’, or ‘I’ve been tossing and turning all night’, are common complaints. Proper assessment often reveals that sufferers are in fact getting more sleep than they think. This may be due to the impossibility of remembering the ‘unconscious’ part of night’s sleep and an exaggeration of the time it takes to fall asleep and the time spent awake. After all, time seems endless if you are trying to sleep or wake early, when in fact it might be a lot shorter than you think!
Whatever the case, just feeling that you haven’t had enough sleep may be leave you tired and under par. Our expectations of what we want out of a nights sleep change during our lifetime. Children will often fight to stay awake, teenagers manage this but find it difficult to wake and the older we get the harder we find falling asleep. How we feel also affects our need or desire for sleep. Sleep is not just for the tired. Sleep can be a retreat from feeling down and depressed and just a few hours slumber a welcome break from a stressful life.
There are many things that affect our sleep. Illness, medication, stress and anxiety may make sleeping difficult. Sometimes there is a family history of sleep problems or you might have always felt you were a ‘poor’ sleeper. Weight gain, changes in routine and diet are just two of the many other factors can all affect sleep quality.
Assessing your sleep will help you to work out if there is a problem and help you define your goals.
The purpose of a sleep diary is to find out not just how much sleep you are getting, but how it affects your life. A sleep diary is particularly useful in assessing and helping those who suffer with insomnia.
Sleep is affected by waking and waking by sleeping, which is why it is important to record parts of your waking life.
Each day you will need to record:
Wake up time
Did you wake up early, with an alarm, find it difficult to wake, oversleep, etc? Make a note of how you feel and how you felt you slept. Were there any dreams/ wakeful periods/ disturbances?
Did you get up immediately or lie in bed? Were you feeling rested or drowsy? How is your mood?
Description of Day
How did you feel during the day? Did you feel tired, irritable, up or down? Did you have a busy day, do any exercise, have a nap, have any problems or any highs or lows?
What and when did you eat/drink? Any alcohol, coffee? What did you do for the three hours before bed? Any problems/arguments – ups or downs?
Are you feeling sleepy? What do you do before bed and when you go to bed?
What time did you put out the light? How do you expect to sleep tonight?
Night Time (Fill this in the morning!)
Can you remember waking or anything else? If you have a sleeping partner you might ask them for help with this. Did anything happen during the night to disrupt you – snoring, noise, light, discomfort?
Try to keep a few notes on what you eat, drink and smoke. By identifying what is happening during the day you may be able to pinpoint foods, the amount of alcohol, stress and other events that disrupt your sleep.
You will need to keep a diary for a few weeks to help build an accurate picture of what is happening and whether this has any ‘pattern’. If you can spot any ‘triggers’ such as bedtime routines that help or hinder your sleep, you may be able to improve your sleep quality without further help.
Assessing whether poor sleep is a problem or just a passing phase is difficult without some idea of what ‘normal’ sleep is. The amount we sleep and the quality of our sleep changes throughout life. Ideally we should have enough sleep that we feel refreshed and are able to function throughout the day. Some disruption is inevitable – birth, illness, work, travel and other events will cause changes in the sleep pattern.
Most people suffer from insomnia at some time during their lives. This may be a period finding it difficult to get to sleep or the occasional sleepless night.
Insomnia is diagnosed as:
Difficulty getting and staying asleep – it does not depend on the length of time it takes getting to sleep or how long a person sleeps.
By assessing the quality of your sleep you may be able to make some changes that will help you sleep better. This may take some time but will be worth the effort if it gives you an extra hour or two. It will also be useful if problem persists and you need to seek outside help.