How to get better sleep: I’ve started keeping a sleep diary

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One of my favorite things is waking up without an alarm on a Saturday morning, before everyone else has, making coffee and then sitting in my office. I watch the news or sports, or maybe I have nothing on at all. Right now I’m watching last night’s Dallas Stars game. I’m really happy hockey is back, and I’m happy that I’m watching. Hockey is a fantastic mental escape.

But it’s not really this morning ritual per se that I enjoy. It’s this ritual… in combination with having slept great.

And I slept amazingly Friday night.

It’s no secret that we sleep less as we get older, especially men. We’ll go to bed at 11 and then, bam, we’re up with the roosters. It’s not that we don’t want to return to slumber. It’s that we can’t. Most nights, especially if it’s a work morning, I’ll just get up and take a walk on my treadmill and watch some YouTube videos or TikTok. If I’m being honest, my work day isn’t diminished much when I wake up super early.

Sometimes my work is better, even if I’m fatigued. What happens is that I’ll go through the motions, task to task, and just get stuff done without analyzing every move. It ends up being a good thing.

It’s really important not to stress too much over lack of sleep on any single night because, as it turns out, stress is something that — over and over — will cause you to sleep poorly. This is one of the reasons I stopped wearing my wearable overnight. My first wearable device was a Jawbone UP3, and then I’ve had two Apple Watches. I’d read my sleep stats each night, and I found myself obsessing over number of hours slept or how choppy my sleep was.

Work stress is a major sleep killer. Family stress is, too. Any stress that happens after 7 p.m., especially, is going to get in the way of a good night’s rest.

Blue light is the worst, and I’m addicted to my phone. I do wear blue-light-blocking glasses though.

For me, Sunday nights are usually my worst night of sleep, and Monday nights are close behind. I suspect that Sundays are easy to explain. We sleep in on the weekends, and if you sleep in too much, you throw off your body’s sleeping schedule. It’s important to go to bed and awaken at roughly the same time every day. Even Saturdays.

For the record, I came pretty close today. Went to bed last night at 11:15, and I got up at 8:30. Usually, I’m up no later than 7:30.

My sleep this week has been especially good, two weeks after recovering from COVID-19. One of the reasons why sleep has been top of mind for me is because COVID-19 is reported to cause insomnia.

It’s just something else to stress over, right?

Well, I have long been a sleep-hygiene nerd — and this week, I added a new element to my tool belt: a sleep diary. In my sleep diary, I take note of:

  • What time I went to bed
  • What time I awakened
  • What time I got up in the middle of the night
  • How many times I got up
  • What did I eat or drink the day before?
  • How much coffee, and when?
  • Did I exercise? If so, when?
  • What was my stress level like?
  • What pills did I take during the day? (e.g., probiotics, Omega-3, low-dose aspirin)
  • What did I take before bed? (e.g., my typical routine is 2 Advil + a small tincture of CBD oil)

I have started taking note of my dreams, too. Everybody dreams. Whether you recall what you dream is another thing. However, documenting your dreams daily is believed to help you recall them better night-to-night over the long-haul. That has proved to be true for me this week.

What I’ve found to be the key to documenting dreams is to lie in bed for 10 to 15 minutes after waking and just pondering your dreams. Don’t think about your to-do list. Think about your dreams. Then I jot down all I can think of into my Notes app on my iPhone. I’ll add it all to a Word or Excel document later.

It sounds like work, yes. But it’s quite fun, and it’s fascinating.

And if it means better sleep more consistently, then fantastic!

The cover photo for this post is from Flickr contributor Henry Burrows.

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