Sleep Diaries: “How can I keep my energy levels up with a new baby?”

“I’m stressed and rundown – is that why I keep having vivid dreams?” A sleep expert answers your questions

Posted by for Wellbeing

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 28-year-old dental nurse who routinely goes to bed late and clock-watches in the night charts her fitful sleep patterns and vivid dreams – with underlying work anxiety also in the mix. 

A little about me:

Age: 28

Occupation: Dental nurse

Number of hours sleep I get each night: I get around six to seven hours a night.

Number of hours sleep I wish I got each night: I would love to get a solid eight hours a night.

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems: No.

How much water I drink on average per day: Between 2.5 and 3.5 litres a day.

How much exercise I do on average per week: I go for around two walks a week, each one lasting half an hour to an hour. I do more when possible. 

Is it a bad idea to clock-watch through the night?

Day 1

I’m up at 7.30am and feeling very anxious as I have an important exam for work. I spend the morning studying and have a long shower to relax. For lunch, I have beans on toast and a cup of tea before squeezing in a bit more revision time ahead of my exam. After it’s done I go food shopping. I go to a friend’s house for a prawn spaghetti dinner, along with another cup of tea. I drink around two and a half litres of water throughout the day.

I go to bed at 11pm after a 25-minute drive home. I expect to sleep well now the stress of the exam is over, but I’ve felt anxious all day and I don’t get to sleep for a long time: I look at the clock at 12.15am. My alarm goes off at 6.10am but I snooze until 6.40am.

Day 2

I feel tired but wake up quickly. I drink a pint of cold water and go to work. I have a study day and drink around two and half litres of water throughout the day, plus a cup of tea on arrival. Lunch is salad and a yoghurt. I go to the GP, too, and begin antibiotics for an ear infection that’s been bugging me. After returning home, I have a hot shower and go to the shops before cooking: dinner is pizza and ice-cream. 

I feel tired at 9.30pm but stay up to clean the kitchen and make lunches. I go to bed at 11.30pm and it doesn’t take long to fall asleep. I wake up at 4.56am and again at 6.10am when my alarm goes off. I doze on and off until 8am, during which I have vivid dreams about work but featuring friends that I do not actually work with. 

Having a lie-in doesn't necessarily compensate for a bad night's sleep

Day 3

I have the day off work today due to my ear infection, and force myself to go back to sleep until 9am. I have porridge for breakfast with a cup of tea and then shower. I do some washing and cleaning around house, and I also rest a bit. I have a tuna salad sandwich for lunch, followed by quorn curry for dinner. I feel tired at 11pm but I don’t go to bed until 11.55pm. I then read my Kindle for 10 minutes before sleeping.

Day 4

I wake in the night at around 4.52am. I go back to sleep easily but wake again at around 6am. I then do the same twice again, waking up at around 8.15am and then finally 9.30am. As it’s Saturday, I haven’t set an alarm. I stay awake in bed, look through my phone and chill until 10.30am, as I don’t have plans. I then get up and make a vegetarian breakfast for my family. 

I have a relaxing day watching TV and pampering myself, and I go for a 40-minute walk in the evening. I have two cups of tea, a small glass of Pepsi Max and two litres of water, along with veggie fajitas for dinner. I go to bed at 1.30am.

Vivid dreams are linked to underlying stress and anxiety

Day 5

I have horrible dreams throughout the night about being shot, my friends being bombed and being held hostage with my family. I keep waking up through the night and after a fitful sleep, I finally get up at 10am. I stay home today, watching TV, reading a lot and resting, as my ear infection is feeling particularly bad. I go to bed at 11.30pm.

Day 6

I wake up at 5.15am and again at 7.30am, before getting up at 8am. I have porridge and berries for breakfast with a cup of tea. I am still off sick from work due to pain and hearing loss, so I spend the day resting and reading on my Kindle. During the afternoon and evening I have an awful headache, so I take painkillers and drink plenty but it does not help. 

I feel exhausted around 6pm and go for a 10-minute nap. We have dinner and I go to bed at around 9.45pm, although I cannot sleep until around 11pm. I wake up numerous times throughout the night, but feel refreshed when I wake up at 8.40am. I had been dreaming that I was at the airport and about to catch a flight on my own. I was very nervous and realised I didn’t have my ticket and ended up missing my flight. Then the contents of my suitcase was everywhere and I needed to tidy up (I also spied my celebrity crush, Marvin Hume, at the airport).

Walking can be a powerful antidote to stress

Day 7

I relax this morning as I’m still off sick from work. After lunch of a tuna melt, I go for a long walk to get some fresh air, which feels amazing after being at home for two days. I go to bed at around 11pm and sleep well but I keep waking up throughout the night. I wake up again at around 5.56am and then go back to sleep until 8.40am. I have strange dreams about going clubbing and drinking alcohol with my friends and strangers. 

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says:

“You’re clearly very run down and needs to be getting more rest and better quality sleep in order to give your body the healing you need with this ear infection raging on. 

“How can you do this? For a start, you need to be getting to bed earlier. You are going to bed far too late and missing out on the healing power of that pre-midnight sleep and rest. This is an important part of my sleep programme and philosophy.”  

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan Stylist's sleep expert
Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

“Lying in in the mornings will only help to a small extent – it’s getting to bed earlier that will be more effective in helping you to get better,” Dr. Nerina continues. “Additionally, you really need to stop checking the time during the night. It’s totally normal to wake up during the night and most of us do so around ten times a night without even knowing it’s happening. 

“Checking the time constantly is keeping you awake and fuelling your anxiety. In the long-term, you could really benefit from taking up some form of yoga or breathwork practice to calm your anxiety and improve your sleep quality.”

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: Unsplash

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.