Narratives of the night: The use of audio diaries in researching sleep
Hislop J., Arber S., Meadows R., Venn S.
This article draws on data from two major empirical studies of sleep to examine the use of audio diaries as an approach to researching sleep. Sleep has only recently emerged as a topic of interest to the sociologist, providing a valuable resource through which to examine the roles and relationships and gender inequalities which underpin everyday life. Yet accessing individual experiences of sleep is problematic. Considered a non-conscious activity, sleep takes place in most cases at night within the private domain of the home and is thus generally inaccessible to the social researcher and outside the conscious reality of the sleeper. In exploring the social aspects of sleep, we rely primarily on respondents' interpretations of the sleep period given retrospectively in focus groups and in-depth interviews, distanced from the temporal, spatial and relational dimensions of the sleep event. This article also focuses on the use of audio diaries as a method designed to help bridge the gap between events in real time and retrospective accounts. We examine the narrative structure of audio diaries, discuss the principles and practice of using audio diaries in sleep research, illustrate the contribution of audio diary narratives to an understanding of the social context of sleep, and assess the use of audio diaries in social research. We conclude that, used in conjunction with other methods, audio diaries are an effective method of data collection, particularly for understanding experiences of intimate aspects of everyday life.