“What’s the best time to go to bed?” A sleep expert answers your questions

Posted by for Sleep

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 Diariesa 27-year-old environmental sustainability professional wonders what time she should be getting to bed each night.

A little about me:

Age: 27

Occupation: environmental sustainability professional

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 5 (6 at the very most)

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: 7-8

Do you have any sleep conditions: Not officially diagnosed, but I have bouts of insomnia

How much water you drink on average per day: 2 litres minimum in the winter (more if I exercise), 3 litres minimum in the summer

How much exercise I do on average per week: 10,000 steps every day (over an hour of walking), yoga five times a week. More when the gyms and swimming pools are open

Day 1

I finish work at 5.30pm, working from home in a separate room to where I sleep, and then do some yoga until 7pm as I always get so stiff and tense after sitting at my desk. Dinner is at 7.15pm (a vegan mushroom risotto and steamed green vegetables), and I make sure to clean up afterwards. Then, it’s time for a warm shower (just my body, not my hair) to unwind, before facetiming a friend for 20 minutes.

When the call ends, I wind up doing another hour of work on the laptop as I have a lot to finish off. I eventually get to bed at midnight with my phone on airplane mode (I usually go to bed around this time) and it takes me about 30 minutes to fall asleep.

I sleep for around five hours straight (as always) and wake up at 6.30am. I’m so tired, though, that I wind up dozing for another hour. In fact, I don’t manage to force myself out of bed until 7.45am. 

Cropped shot of an unrecognizable woman sitting on her bed and meditating alone during the morning at home
Sleep Diaries: I make sure to unwind after work with some yoga.

Day 2

I finish work at 6pm after a very busy day at work, and I do 20 minutes of yoga stretches afterward. Once that’s done, I whip up a vegan stir fry with peanut satay sauce for dinner (which I tuck into at around 7pm), before cleaning up and having another warm shower to unwind.

I listen to half a podcast, and then turn my phone to airplane mode at 10pm. I snuggle into bed with a non-fiction book, which I read until midnight. It takes me around 30 minutes to fall asleep, and I wake up a couple of times in the night. I probably only get about five hours full sleep again, and I feel it when I force myself out of bed at 8.30am. 

Day 3

I finish work at 5.30pm after a very busy day, and wind down with an hour and a half of yoga. Dinner is at 7.30pm (a vegan shepherd’s pie and ice cream), which I tuck into before jumping in the shower and washing my hair.

I dry my hair (which takes around 30 minutes, as it’s so long and thick), and then I wind up listening to a podcast on sustainability until 10pm. Once this is done, I pop my phone on airplane mode and read (again non-fiction) until midnight.

It takes me ages to fall asleep and I keep waking up; honestly, it feels like I’m not in a deep sleep and like I’m just dreaming all night.

Unsurprisingly, I wake up late at 8.45am in a very bad mood and feeling groggy. 

Burning candles in a dark room
Sleep Diaries: I have to work through a power cut, and the electricity doesn’t come back until after 8pm.

Day 4

Annoyingly, there’s a power cut at 2pm today – right in the middle of work. I use the time to go for an hour-long walk in the hope it will all be sorted by the time I get home, but it doesn’t. I wind up trying to work as much as possible on my laptop without the internet, but it’s a struggle.

When I finish for the day, I do some yoga stretches before sitting down to a late dinner after 8pm. I have two glasses of wine with my food, and then watch 30 minutes of TV when the power comes back on at long last.

I have a warm shower, chat to a friend on the phone for an hour, and turn the lights off at 11:30. I don’t sleep very well again, just like all the other nights. 

Day 5 

I finish work at 6pm, have a hot shower, then settle down to dinner and two gins (it’s Friday!).

Afterwards, I watch a film, then go up to my room at 11pm, where I chat on the phone for an hour. I fall asleep at about 1am and wake up naturally at 7.30am, which means I got a blissful six hours of uninterrupted sleep.

I lay in bed until 10am. Weekend vibes. 

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You have some really great habits – the vegan diet, yoga, 10K steps a day – so all we need to do here is a little finetuning. I can hear that you’re tired, and I think that your sleep pattern isn’t helping: you’re going to bed far too late and then waking up tired and snoozing.

“One of my most effective non-negotiable sleep tips is to get to bed earlier – around 9.30/10pm and then aim to have lights out at around 10.30/11. This should allow 20 minutes to get into deep sleep, 90 minutes of pre-midnight non-REM sleep and, depending on your morning alarm, give you between seven and eight hours of rest a night.

“If you can’t sleep, though, don’t worry: just focus on resting. And, whatever time you eventually nod off, always aim to get up at the same time every morning.” 

    Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
    Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

    Dr Nerina continues: “Now, I get that you’re a night owl, and I love how much time you spend reading – but is your reading material helping to settle your mind and body? Or is it over-stimulating? Is listening to a podcast on sustainability going to help you to switch off or again, or are you setting your brain to ‘work mode’? Think about the media you’re consuming before bed, and try to keep it relaxing.

    “My most important question is this: are you clockwatching? How do you know it takes you 30 minutes to fall asleep?

    “Please stop looking at the time when you’re in bed, because it can feed into anxiety around your sleep cycle and make it even harder to drift off. Instead, focus on using your yoga breathing to help you to fall asleep more easily and sleep more deeply.

    “Good luck!” 

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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

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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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