Why Keep a Sleep Log?

Despite all the productivity tools and technology we have at our disposal to make our daily lives easier, the amount of information we take in at any given moment is significant and may even be overwhelming sometimes. 

When you combine coffee, used to keep us moving through our busy modern lives, fast food we can eat on the go, and alcohol consumption to unwind and relax after a long day — you’ve created the perfect storm of an overworked and overtasked mind and body. 

It’s no wonder getting a night of deep, restful sleep is a challenge for the 80% of adults who get the recommended amount of sleep half of the week or less. And for those who struggle to sleep soundly at night, the vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and drowsiness during the day takes a major toll on their quality of life.

First and foremost, keeping a log of your sleep at night is the best way to identify emotional and physical triggers that disturb your ability to get restorative sleep. Fortunately, there are plenty of sleep log apps that help track your sleep patterns, the movements and sounds we make when we sleep, and the quality and length of time we’re in a dream state. The sleep data collected from a sleep app can be useful in understanding your sleep cycles, to help you improve the quality of your sleep and lengthen how many hours per night you get.

What is healthy sleep?

Here’s a brief overview of what healthy sleep looks like. By the time you finally hit the bed, you’ll move through different phases of sleep. They are:

  • Stage 1: Light sleep. You aren’t in a restful stage yet and can easily be woken.
  • Stage 2: A little deeper sleep than stage 1, your heart rate and breathing start to decrease. 
  • Stage 3: You’ve now entered deep sleep mode, also known as slow-wave sleep (SWS). Your muscles relax and you breathe slower and deeper. Brain activity is minimal and the body is focused on self-repair and restoration.
  • Stage 4: Known as the rapid eye movement (REM) phase. The brain kicks into activity mode, causing dreams while it processes and sorts all the information you’ve gathered from the day.

You’ll move between the four cycles throughout the night, with cycles lasting somewhere between 45 and 100 minutes, depending on your physiology and number of interruptions. Your sleep cycles run optimally when you’re in good health. If you exercise regularly, eat well, and sleep in a room with minimal noise or light exposure, you’re able to get more quality sleep. The issue is, the sleep cycle can go wrong based on certain external factors. 

Lifestyle factors that can lead to bad sleep

Certain habits can interfere with your sleep, making it difficult for your body and mind to restore so you can wake up fresh and ready to conquer the world. Some factors that could lead to a bad night’s sleep are:

More Consistent Sleep Means Better Health

Good health and proper sleep are connected — you can’t have one without the other. Researchers and doctors have been saying for years that good health stems from sleep, and you can’t maximize sleep without a quality mattress and a good night’s sleep. There are several studies that support the importance of good sleep habits.

Our study found that prolonged irregular sleep cycles are associated with chronic health issues. According to the study, “The more irregular these sleep patterns, the higher the risk for obesity, hypertension, and elevated blood sugar, and the higher the projected risk of developing heart disease over the next decade.” 

Could the source of the U.S. epidemic level of obesity, diabetes and heart disease be caused by something so simple as a lack of good sleep? If sleep isn’t the sole contributor to the nation’s most common illnesses and causes of death, it appears that promoting better sleep could at least help reduce the risk of chronic health issues. 

We’ve discussed evidence of this in our Sleep Statistics blog to support these findings, which reveals that, “infants and children who sleep fewer hours are more likely to be obese later in life.” Education about the importance of healthy sleep habits should start young — quality sleep has far-reaching consequences to your health. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend seven to nine hours of sleep per night for most adults. Unfortunately, only 21% of adults get the recommended amount of sleep at least more than half the week. Taking steps to improve your sleep patterns is good for your health. A good way to start is by creating a sleep log.

Image: Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

What Your Sleep Data Can Tell You

Sleep logs and tracker apps collect different types of sleep data. If you choose a sleep tracker app that works with your Fitbit or Apple Watch, the app can collect your heart rate, blood pressure, and movement. Using an app that’s compatible with your smartphone takes advantage of the phone’s accelerometer to monitor and record the movements you make while you sleep. An app’s algorithms can determine when you’re in a light sleep mode and more likely to wake up by the number of movements you make, or by changes in your heart rate.

Reviewing the sleep data the app tracks and shares with you can help you better understand your sleeping patterns. It comes in handy to know when you’re in a lighter sleep phase and can more easily wake up to pinpoint the best time in the morning to set the alarm. You may also be able to use the information you receive from the sleep tracker app to learn how bad sleep triggers such as alcohol, stress or medication affect your sleep patterns.

How to Keep a Sleep Log

A handwritten diary is one of the simplest ways to record and monitor changes in sleep quality, quantity, and consistency. You don’t have to worry about personal data being shared or being tempted by your bedside phone each night to check your texts and emails while you’re supposed to be sleeping. Slumber Yard has created a free sleep log you can download and print to note your daily sleep habits. 

Once you have a paper copy of the Slumber Yard sleep log, make it a part of your routine to take quick notes about your habits, activities, and the quality of your sleep before bed and when you first wake up. 

The evening entry notes consist of what you consumed in the day, such as alcohol, a large meal or drugs, as well as any activities before bed such as watching TV. In the morning, note how you feel, how you slept, and the hours of sleep per night. Over time, you may be able to understand how certain habits or activities affect your quality of sleep so you can make improvements.

Apps that Create Your Sleep Log

If you’re comfortable with technology and would prefer to use a sleep tracker app instead of a written sleep log, there are many apps available that make collecting sleep data effortless. Some apps worth checking out include:

App NameDescriptionPriceAvailable PlatformsDoes it track bed movement?Notes
Sleep-DiaryDesigned for insomnia self-help, Sleep-Diary tracks your sleep volume and hours in bed to provide an efficiency score you can track over time.Free or $2.99AppleNoIdeal if you’re dealing with chronic insomnia.
Sleep Recorder AppUnlike the other sleep apps, this app records your snoring and sounds you make throughout the night. Free or $2.99AppleNoIf snoring interrupts your sleep, this app will give you a better idea of your snoring patterns.
Circady Sleep DiaryA clinical tool designed to treat insomnia. Collects information about your sleep cycle and shares it with your healthcare practitioner.FreeApple and AndroidYesChoose this app if you’re working with a doctor on your sleep issues and need to share sleep data.
Easy Sleep DiaryA lightweight app that tracks your sleep and displays it in simple graphs that can be shared.FreeAppleYesThe simplest, no-frills sleep tracker app on the list.
Sleep Diary AppIntegrates with the iPhone’s or Apple Watch’s Health app to log your sleep patterns. Can average out your sleep time over a week or month.$0.99AppleYesTracking your sleep becomes one component of your overall health using the Sleep Diary app.
RisePopular among NFL teams to help players get the best restorative sleep using science-based approaches. Helps you become a “morning person”.$6.99 or $12.99 per monthAppleYesIf you’re a data-driven person, you’ll like the science-based approach of Rise.
Sleep CycleAnalyzes your movements while you sleep. Wake up gently using the app’s gradual alarm for a less jarring rise.$29.99 per yearApple and AndroidYesHas a great alarm that knows the ideal time to gradually wake you.
Pillow AppThe app tracks your heart rate and sleep quality, can wake you up at the optimum time and has a special nap mode. Free or $4.99AppleYesMonitors your bed movements or your vital signs, depending on whether you’re using an Apple Watch or iPhone.
AutoSleepYou’ll need an Apple Watch for automatic monitoring of your sleep patterns. Program certain behaviors as signs you’re awake.$3.99AppleYesSet and forget this sleep tracker — it handles everything automatically.
SleepBotTrack your sleep cycles, listen to binaural beats to relax and fall asleep, and let the app wake you up gently .$3.99AndroidNoA wide range of functionality to help you relax, fall asleep, wake up and understand your sleep patterns.
Sleeptracker 24/7A medical-class app that measures heart rate to determine when you’re at rest or sleeping and the most ideal time to wake up.$0.99Apple and AndroidYesPossibly the most precise sleep tracker because it monitors your heart rate.
SleepScoreYour sleep cycles will be rated by the subscription-based app and you’ll receive customized advice on how to get better rest. $5.99 per month or $49.99 per yearApple and AndroidThrough optional bed monitorProvides useful advice to help improve your sleep quality.
Sleep TimeA subscription app that shares your sleep stats and analyzes your sleep to decide when the best time to wake you up is. $29.99 per yearAndroidNoGreat stats presented in simple, easy to understand graphs.

Other Devices that track your sleep

Does my Fitbit track sleep?

All wearable, wrist-based models of FitBit track sleep, as long as you wear the device to bed. Make sure the wristband is snug so the device can monitor your heart rate accurately. Once your body stops moving for roughly an hour, the Fitbit records that you’re sleeping. The heart monitor tracks changes to your heart rate to know if you’re in a deep or REM sleep. 

Fitbit awards a sleep score based on sleep data including how often you wake up, your heart rate, and your sleep stages. The score provides you with valuable information about your sleep quality each night. A medical study finds Fitbit’s sleep tracker adequate, although not a substitute for a medical monitor.

iPhone & Apple Watch

The iPhone has two apps that track your sleep — the Clock app’s Bedtime setting and Health app. To use the Bedtime setting, enter your sleep and wake time. The iPhone’s accelerometer monitors for movement and provides reports of your sleep patterns. The Health app provides sleep data reports of how long you slept and can be used with other sleep tracking apps.

Galaxy Watch sleep tracking

The Galaxy Watches Active and Active 2 both automatically track your sleep. A simple toggle in the Sleep widget lets you record REM sleep so you can review your sleep activity when you wake.

The Bottom Line

Sleep is essential to good health. Unfortunately, more people each day struggle with getting quality rest due to factors such as poor diet, alcohol and caffeine consumption, stress, and a bedroom environment that doesn’t support a good night’s sleep. 

You can control some factors that hinder quality sleep by investing in a quality mattress and avoiding habits that interfere with your sleep cycle. To truly know what habits affect your sleep cycle, it’s beneficial to monitor your circadian rhythm by creating a sleep log or using a sleep tracker app. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to monitor your patterns so you can understand what affects your sleep — and improve it.