Stylist's Sleep Diaries: why do I keep waking up at 2am?

“Can loneliness impact your sleep?” A sleep expert answers your questions

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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 24-year-old digital writer wonders why she keeps tossing and turning at night.

A little about me:

Age: 24

Occupation: digital writer

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 6-8 hours

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: 8 solid hours

How much water you drink on average per day: 2-3 litres

How much exercise I do on average per week: anywhere between 3-5 weight based workouts and daily walks

Day 1

My Lumie lamp wakes me up at 6:50, 10 minutes before my alarm is due to go off. I feel pretty well rested as I fell asleep by 9:45 last time after a rough sleep on Saturday (I think due to wine). I throw my gym kit on, eat some crackers and have a coffee and then stretch and do a 45-minute weights session. I have a post-workout porridge with fruit, nut butter and a protein shake. Despite not being tired when I woke up, my eyes feel heavy by the time I start my Zoom call at 9:15.

I have my second and final coffee of the day at 10 o’clock. I feel a bit overwhelmed and frustrated with work and/or life, and my chest feels like it’s racing, so I take lunch at 12 o’clock and go to the post office. I try to ‘listen to my body’ as much as I can, despite the cliché, and given that I’m feeling constantly knackered and struggling to recover from my exercise, I’m focusing on giving it enough fuel right now, so I dig into a chicken and cheese bagel loaded with roasted veg and salad, too. I follow up with a green tea.

Everything Bagel Sandwich with Turkey - stock photo
Sleep Diaries: I refuel with a chicken and cheese bagel.

I work until 6 then go for a 45-minute walk while listening to a podcast. I make dinner at 7 o’clock while watching a panel discussion on Jewish identity that my friend is hosting on my phone. At 8 I make a peppermint tea and have a couple of squares of dark chocolate.

I watch TV with my housemates for a bit, but mainly I’m reading features on my phone. I start doing my wind down routine at 9:30 – skin care, tidying room, putting my Lumie lamp on, etc, and then get into bed at 10 and read for 20 minutes or so.  

Day 2

I woke up twice in the night: once because I was having a weird dream and another time because I was SO thirsty. I didn’t check the time and eventually went back to sleep both times, then woke up to my alarm at 7. I throw on some clothes and go for a walk around my local park, and end up out for about an hour. I come home, shower, make coffee and oats for breakfast and start work at 8:30.

I make myself a second coffee at 10:30, then work until 12:30 when I stop and do a 45-minute gymnastics class. It’s not high intensity, but I’m starving after so make myself a quick lunch and a green tea before getting back to work. I’ve decided to take my writing into the kitchen today, as I was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic in my room, and the difference to having large windows and a bit of space is huge.  

I finish work at 6 and start making dinner to get away from my screen. I eat at 6:30 and then go to Tesco to help my housemate do a food shop (downside to no car is that it takes multiple hands to do a big shop, but any excuse to get out the house). I’m still peckish when I get home, so I have a bowl of cereal and then get into the bath and read. 

When I get out, I notice a missed facetime from a friend, so I call her back while doing my nighttime skincare routine. We talk about pre and post lockdown life and when I hang up at 9:15 I start looking at old pictures on my phone. Before I know it it’s 10 o’clock, so I get into bed and read for 20 minutes before falling asleep.

Day 3

I feel like I was tossing and turning all night. I wake up at 6:30 and drift on and off for 15 minutes, but when I stand up I realise how congested I feel. I’ve been fighting off a cold for about a week now (it’s not Covid) and for some reason the headache and blocked sinuses have hit today. Skip the workout I’d planned and take myself for a half an hour and then do a gentle 15-minute yoga stretch.

I grab breakfast and a coffee and then sit down to work. I take a break at 12:15 to make myself a miso soup and some toast – my top cravings when I’m not well. I’m on calls non-stop between 1-4, then work until 6. After spotting me working in the kitchen yesterday, my housemate asked me if I wanted to move my desk into his room, which is at the front of the house and has a lot of natural light, plus it means he becomes my acting colleague for the day. 

I notice a world of difference – I’m feeling energised enough to keep working, rather than slogging through the last few hours of the day.  

Casual woman working from home in her pyjamas - stock photo
Sleep Diaries: I notice a huge different when I move my WFH station.

I don’t eat a lot of red meat, but I’ve had a real craving recently, which I figure is my body trying to tell me something. So I pop out to the shop and grab the ingredients to make a meatball pasta served with roasted veggies and a glass of wine. I don’t usually drink in the week as I have noticed that, since the third lockdown, I’ve been having the WORST hangovers and it’s just worth it. But, again, today I really fancied it.

I watch TV with my housemate until 9, then turn it off and browse my phone for some new wall prints. I traipse to my room at 10, read for 20 minutes in bed, but cannot fall asleep. I usually wear earplugs (needs must in a shared house) but I didn’t put them in tonight as I didn’t think they’d help with my sinus congestion, but I’m now alert to every single noise I hear.

Day 4

I managed to nod off last night and wake up to my 7 o’clock alarm already feel so much better – that wine clearly didn’t bother me too much. I have a coffee and a banana and then do a workout, but I try not to make it too intense as I don’t think my body is ready for the full hog.

I have breakfast (oats, protein, berries, nut butter) and sit down to work at 8:45 in my housemates room again. I really want my ritualistic second coffee after my morning meeting but my heart is racing again – this has never happened before but now seems to be a daily occurrence, and I assume it must be to do with lockdown anxiety. I opt for a peppermint tea and use my lunch break to pop to Tesco and buy some decaff coffee, which I have later that afternoon.

I work until 6:30 then go for a walk around the block before making myself dinner. I watch TV until about 9, then have a chat with my housemates until 10. I go through my usual bedtime routine and fall asleep at about 11.

Day 5

I woke up a couple of times in the night having a bit of an uncomfortable stomach (I think I’m in the ovulation period of my cycle, my ovaries feel like they’re doing flips and I’m quite bloated) but I feel pretty refreshed nevertheless. Grab coffee and a banana and then do a 30-minute workout.

My usual breakfast is followed by a decaf coffee – I think I’m going to stick on the one caffeinated beverage a day thing until I get these palpitations under control. It seems to be working – no anxious heart and I’m not even too sleepy. I shovel a quick lunch down at 12:45 before a 45-minute interview then go for a walk around the block. My period gripes turn into full on discomfort, so I work with a hot water bottle (promise I’m not actually always in pain, my body just seems to be doing some funky stuff this week).

I finish work at about 6:30 and go for a quick walk. When I get home, I make a gin and tonic and finish off the meatballs from earlier in the week. I log on to a family Zoom call at 7:45, and we end up talking for an hour and a half. It’s so lovely to see everyone but I’m worried about my dad and my brothers mental health during all of this.

I watch a bit of TV with my housemate and have a peppermint tea and some dark chocolate, but my period pains have returned and I feel quite uncomfortable so I go to bed at around 11.  

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You really have great habits and actually seem to be following my own 5 non-negotiable rules for sleep really well.

“These are:

  1. Eat breakfast within 30 mins of rising, and make sure to include some protein. It doesn’t have to be big; even a piece of toast with nut butter is enough!
  2. Cut back on caffeine and stop using it as a substitute for food, especially for breakfast. No caffeine after 3pm and ideally no more than two coffees a day.
  3. Increase hydration to two litres of water per day.
  4. Get yourself to bed earlier at least four nights a week. You want to be in bed around 9.30-10pm, and aim to be relaxing, reading, meditating. Do not use any electronic devices.
  5. And on that note… keep electronic devices out of the bedroom!

“You’re a sensitive human being and sleeper and I’m glad you’ve got your self-care routine down pat. Very tuned in to your body. You listen to your body and make good decisions about reducing caffeine and whether or not to drink alcohol, which is brilliant.”

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

    Dr Nerina continues: “I wonder, though, if you’re a bit hard on herself and whether you need to give herself a break at times and just allow yourself to feel less than 100%. I hope you’re reading something relaxing and uplifting before you go to bed as I sense a tinge of loneliness and anxiety, as well as the need to feel safe within yourself before you turn out the light.

    “Maybe writing a gratitude journal before you go off to sleep might be a good idea? Researchers have found that gratitude is related to having more positive thoughts, and fewer negative ones, at bedtime. This, in turn, is associated with dozing off faster and sleeping longer and better.

    “I wish you all the best.”

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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.

      Want more practical advice on how to achieve better sleep? On World Sleep Day (Friday 19 March), we will be hosting The Stylist Restival - a part sleep spa, part workshop. Tickets include four live sessions, one month free of Clementine, the all-new sleep app; plus a downloadable sleep guide. Book your place here

      Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan

      Images: Getty/Unsplash/Ben Blennerhassett/Taisiia Shestopal

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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.

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