Wellbeing

“How much sleep do I need if I’m trying to get pregnant?” A sleep expert answers your questions

Welcome to Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, where we’re taking a deep-dive into one of the most important (and elusive) factors in our day-to-day lives: sleep. To help us understand more about it, we’re inviting women to track their bedtime routines over a five-day period – and presenting these diaries to sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan for analysis.  

In this week’s Sleep Diaries, a 34-year-old PR manager wonders if she needs to change her sleep routine while she’s trying for a baby.

A little about me:

Age: 34

Occupation: PR manager

Number of hours sleep I get each night: 7

Number of hours sleep I wish I got each night: 8

How much water I drink on average per day: 1.5 litres a day.

How much exercise I do on average per week: Couch to 5K (only just started, three times a week!)

Day 1

I wake up at 5am, an hour earlier than usual, so use the extra time to down a cup of rooibos tea and get ahead with work for the day. It’s a pretty busy day, but I manage to go for a run-walk-run at lunch (Couch to 5K!), and then come back to a tuna and sweetcorn sarnie. 

I work through until 6pm, and make dinner with my husband (homemade cauliflower and carrot soup), which we eat in front of the TV. I down a folic acid tablet, have a shower, and head to bed, where we chat for a while before having sex (we’re trying for a baby and it’s my ovulation week!). 

We fall asleep quickly afterwards.

Sleep Diaries: “I down a folic acid tablet and head to bed, where we chat for a while before having sex (we’re trying for a baby and it’s my ovulation week!).”
Sleep Diaries: “I down a folic acid tablet and head to bed, where we chat for a while before having sex (we’re trying for a baby and it’s my ovulation week!).”

Day 2

I wake up at 6am with my alarm, feeling a little groggy, but a bowl of raisin-studded porridge and some rooibos tea soon sorts that out. 

It’s a busy day again, and I work through until lunch (no time for a run, so just make a point of walking around the house for a bit with my sandwich). Then, it’s back-to-back Zoom calls until 6pm, when I log off and make a chilli con carne. 

I take another folic acid tablet, eat some satsumas, and watch TV for a while before bed. My head hits the pillow at 10.30pm and I’m out for the count - although I have some really realistic dreams about work! So much so that when I wake up I think it’s a day later in the week than it is.

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Day 3

I snooze my alarm way too many times today and don’t get up until 8am, oops. I have time for a slice of toast and some tea before my first meeting of the day at 8.45am, and then work through until lunch. 

I make a point of snacking on Brazil nuts and fruit, as I’m trying really hard to make healthy choices, and head for a run-walk-run at lunch. A quiet afternoon turns into a very busy one, with lots of unexpected meetings and emails, and I don’t clock off until 6.45pm (my fault probably, as I didn’t wake up on time and didn’t get started before work). 

We order a takeaway as we’re feeling lazy – chicken curry and rice – and watch TV for a bit. 

We go to bed early and chat for a while and wind up having sex. I realise I forgot my folic acid tablet and take it with a glass of water, before falling asleep around 11pm. Again, I dream about work as if I’m there and am shocked when I wake up to find none of it actually happened!

Sleep Diaries: “We order a takeaway as we’re feeling lazy – chicken curry and rice – and watch TV for a bit.”
Sleep Diaries: “We order a takeaway as we’re feeling lazy – chicken curry and rice – and watch TV for a bit.”

Day 4

I wake up with my alarm at 6am (fool me once!), have a shower, and make porridge for breakfast. I’m at my desk by 8am and working, ready to start the day at 8,45 – doing so usually means I can take lunch and finish on time(ish) for once. 

It’s almost the case today: I take a walk at lunch (no running sadly as only have 45 minutes to spare), wolf down a banana, and dive back into meetings for the rest of the day. 

I finish only 30 minutes late which I consider a massive win! 

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Dinner is turkey, mash and roasted vegetables (and a folic acid tablet for me), which we eat at the table as we chat about our days. We go for a walk around the block together, watch a bit of telly, and head to bed (we’re so so boring, I’m sorry!).

We consider having sex, and half-heartedly give it a go, but we’re both shattered so decide to catch up on sleep instead. I dream that I’m on holiday in Mallorca and am quite disappointed when I wake up and there’s no sun or sand to be seen.

Day 5

I treat myself to a miniscule lie in – 7.30am, hardly anything to write home about – and run around tidying the house before breakfast (beans on toast). 

Work starts later on Fridays, at 10am, but I log on around 9am and use the time to catch up on emails. At lunch, I walk to the park and meet a friend for a Covid-friendly catchup, as well as a thermos of veggie soup, which makes me feel happier. Then, I work through until 6.30pm. 

Sleep Diaries: “I treat myself to a glass of mulled wine, and some water, as well as a chocolate cake and camomile tea.”
Sleep Diaries: “I treat myself to a glass of mulled wine, and some water, as well as a chocolate cake and camomile tea.”

My partner and I have decided it’s date night, so go out to a restaurant for dinner (masks at the ready!) and indulge in a hearty moussaka and salad. I treat myself to a glass of mulled wine, and some water, as well as a chocolate cake and camomile tea.

We walk around the high street afterward before heading home, where I have a folic acid tablet and some water. We have sex, before falling asleep ready for the weekend. I don’t dream for once!

So, what does it all mean? A sleep expert offers her thoughts

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “Nothing major jumps out at me here, as there are a lot of good things going on for you – your relationship and your new couch-5K routine sound great, your nutrition is not too bad, and your sleep and energy levels seem pretty balanced.

“A couple of small tweaks might help, such as making sure you have some protein in your breakfast to optimise the production of the wellbeing hormones (e.g. serotonin during the day and melatonin at night). This is easily done, though: just try adding some ground almonds or chia seeds to your porridge.

“Also, I recommend you take a few mindful minutes every 90 minutes or so during your work day to breathe, relax your body, and feel your feet on the ground.”

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

According to research conducted by Sleep.org, women who are hoping to become pregnant should aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Anything less can “spike levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, limiting your ability to reproduce.”

However, their experts add that “other lifestyle changes – such as avoiding excess alcohol, quitting smoking, and paying attention to your ovulation cycle and having sex on key days – are far more likely to impact fertility than tweaking your sleep habits.

Indeed, as Dr Nerina tells our case study: “I get the impression of speed and demand in your work day and if you could slow things down just a little then your sleep might be less anxiety-ridden. 

“This would also settle your nervous system, making you much more receptive to conceiving – and the best of luck with that!”

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If you would like to take part in Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, please email us at digital.commissions@stylist.co.uk with ‘SLEEP DIARIES’ as the subject. We look forward to hearing from you.

Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan

Images: Getty

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