Catch more Zzzzs with a Sleep Log

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As part of the Sleep Series, we examine the use of a sleep log. A sleep log can help analyze sleep patterns and help uncover reasons why your child can’t sleep. If you’re a special needs family that struggles with sleep, you’re not alone. The prevalence of parent-reported sleep difficulties for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Development Disabilities and/or Intellectual Disabilities can be as high as 89%

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When a child doesn’t sleep, it impacts the whole family – and I know from personal experience how hard it can be – for years our daughter, who is on the autism spectrum, had trouble falling and staying asleep, sometimes sleeping for only 3 to 4 hours per night. That lack of sleep had a negative impact on the whole family. Tumble into Love’s Sleep Series examines different ways to support better sleep for special needs families. This article shares how a sleep log helped our family catch more Zzzs.

Keeping a Sleep Log

A sleep log is simply a chart to help identify patterns or trends that might be impeding good sleep, or it may help a health care provider uncover a sleep disorder. The log doesn’t need to be high-tech or fancy – a simple chart can be created, or a notebook can be used to track:

  • Sleep and wake times
  • Number of hours spent sleeping
  • Food and drink consumed 1 to 3 hours prior to bed time
  • Medications taken (and times)
  • Bedtime routine and transition efforts
  • Exposure to blue light (TV, Tablet, Computer)

The Importance of Transitions

Tracking the transition process was particularly helpful for our family- we learned what activities our daughter was doing that made transition more difficult, and then added more structure around bedtime transition by creating a visual chart. We found that it was most helpful to give reminders about when the activity needed to end (which signaled the beginning of bedtime transition) starting 20 minutes prior, with reminders every 5 minutes.

With consistency, we got to the point where our daughter would need only one reminder to ‘wrap up’ what she was doing before moving on to the bedtime transition routine. Gone were the tears and meltdowns, once she became familiar, comfortable and an active participant in her bedtime routine.

Using the Information

After tracking and logging for a minimum of 14 days, the data needs to be analyzed for trends. Was sleep better on certain days? On those days what kind of activities happened? What foods were (or were not) consumed? Was there less blue light exposure?

Test One Hypothesis at a Time

You’ve reviewed the log, and it seems that on days your child had a particular snack within an hour before bedtime, she woke between 3 am and 4 am. Change that one habit and keep logging. Trying to change too many things at once not only is difficult (particularly for special needs children who have more difficulty with routine changes), but it will make it harder to determine what really helps or hurts sleep.

It’s Not a Magic Bullet

Analyzing a sleep log and using a trial-and-error approach takes time, and is often just one part of a multi-pronged approach to better sleep. A sleep log can give valuable information that will help your child (and your family) get better sleep.

Free TIL Resources to Support Better Sleep

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  1. This is great – I too used to keep a sleep log when sleep was at it’s worst in our house. I added how much time I had my son outside – I figured natural exposure to sunlight may help increase his melatonin levels and help him (and then the rest of us) get more sleep at night. Great article!

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment! Yes! I agree about the outdoors – now that we’re knee deep in snow I forget the great sleep we get when we go camping during the summer. Natural light + no electronics = awesome sleep!

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