Sleep

“What happens if you drink caffeine before bed?” – 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 filing these diaries to sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan for analysis.  

In this week’s Sleep Diaries, a 31-year-old administrator wonders what the real impact of drinking caffeine before bed is. Please note that this diary was penned two weeks prior to England’s ongoing lockdown.

A little about me:

  • Age: 31
  • Occupation: School office administrator
  • Number of hours sleep I get each night: 6.5 (interrupted)
  • Number of hours sleep I wish I got each night: 8
  • How much water I drink on average per day: 2 pints
  • How much exercise I do on average per week: 1 hour (if that!)

Day 1

I do some housework while my husband gets our son bathed and into bed. Once this is done, we sit down to a dinner of chicken, peppers and onions in a fajita seasoning with tomatoes and spinach on the side. I wash it all down with a glass of Pepsi Max, before hopping in the shower, and washing and straightening my hair.

I head to bed at 9pm to try to have an early night, but wind up watching Below Deck (we watched The Fall earlier and it freaked me out, so I need something to take my mind off murderers).

how to fall asleep
Sleep Diaries: “I head to bed at 9pm to try to have an early night, but wind up watching Below Deck”

At around 10:15pm, I switch off the telly and try to go to sleep, but am disturbed by my husband coming to bed after me. We chat for a bit and then it’s lights off for the second time, but my legs are aching and I find myself anxiously going over my to-do list. Eventually, I look at my phone and realise it’s 12:05am, which means I begin to worry about how tired I’m going to feel in the morning.

No idea what time I eventually nod off.

Day 2

I wake up at 2am when my husband pushes my hair out of his face, so I read the news on my phone before drifting back to sleep.

At 6.20am, the alarm goes off and I bounce out of bed feeling surprisingly awake and not too groggy, all things considered.

Tonight, I make us chilli and rice for dinner, and I drink another two glasses of Pepsi Max with it. We soon find ourselves watching The Fall again, before heading off to bed at 10pm and having sex.

We talk for a while afterwards, and at 11.30ish we’re both on our phones (I’m using mine to plan a birthday surprise for my husband). 

I eventually fall into a dreamless with my phone in my hand, but I don’t think I sleep well. 

You may also like

“Is it really so bad to go to bed late?” – a sleep expert answers your questions

Day 3

I wake up at 6:15am to the sound of the baby crying, and I feel really tired. It doesn’t help that I’m spending the day out and about with a friend, as both me and my son are exhausted, wet, and muddy by the evening.

When my husband gets home, I shower and help myself to a glass of wine as I clean up the kitchen. 

I then spend the evening drinking half a bottle of red wine and eating a pizza while I attend a Zoom book club with my friends. 

Sleep Diaries: “I spend the evening drinking half a bottle of red wine and eating a pizza while I attend a Zoom book club with my friends.”
Sleep Diaries: “I spend the evening drinking half a bottle of red wine and eating a pizza while I attend a Zoom book club with my friends.”

We finish chatting at around 10pm. I feel relaxed until I look at my phone and see I have a ton of messages from lots of different people asking me questions about the surprise birthday party I’m planning (don’t worry, only six people!). I soon find myself growing anxious as I try to reply to everyone.

The stress of this means I don’t even put my phone down until 12:20ish, and then it takes me ages to fall into a fitful sleep.

You may also like

Anxiety dreams: why do we get them, and what do they really mean?

Day 4

I wake up to the alarm at 6.20am feeling very tired. It’s a busy day, and an even busier evening: once the baby is in bed, we sit down to a tea of chicken and potato wedges, and a glass of orange squash.

I then spend the whole night on my laptop picking out pictures of my husband with his friends, so that I can make him a video for his birthday.

We clean the kitchen together at 11pm and head to bed, where I promptly start scrolling through social media on my phone. 

Again, I fall asleep with my phone in my hand, and I’ve no clue what time that was.

Sleep Diaries: “I fell asleep with my phone in my hand.”
Sleep Diaries: “I fall asleep with my phone in my hand.”

Day 5

I wake up feeling exhausted when the alarm goes off at 6.20am. I spend the whole day doing errands for the birthday party, before dropping the baby off to stay with my mum.

I rush home from the shops at 5:30pm, unpack the shopping and get ready to go out for a meal with friends and my husband. We get an Uber into the city and have a meal out: mine is steak, chips, and two large glasses of wine.

We then go to a bar, where I have a shot of limoncello and two espresso martinis. It’s a late one, so we don’t get home until 1am, where I go straight to bed. 

I sleep brilliantly and get up naturally at 7am, but let myself drift back to sleep and snooze until 10am. I feel much better and far more energised. 

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

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

“You’re tired and I’m not surprised. You have a busy life with a young baby, but your lifestyle isn’t helping. You need to focus on better nutrition, more regular exercise, and up your hydration levels (glasses of caffeinated Pepsi Max definitely don’t count).”

It’s worth noting that an NHS study has suggested that caffeine intake may affect sleep even if taken six hours before bedtime. It significantly reduces your total sleep time, as well as the time taken to fall asleep.

If you are having problems sleeping, it makes sense to try limiting your consumption of stimulants, such as foods and drinks that contain caffeine, especially in the evening, to see if this helps.  

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “You need to foster a better relationship with technology, and please stop checking the time during the night – this isn’t helping your sleep.

“You’re trying to do a lot but you don’t have the energy to do it all – this is what the teeth grinding is about. Start putting yourself at the centre of your world and making better choices so that you can fully embrace what is actually a good life.”

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.

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan is a renowned physiologist and sleep expert and regularly hosts sleep programmes and workshops. She is the bestselling author of several books about sleep, including The Little Book of Sleep: The Art of Natural Sleep (Gaia, 2018).

Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan

Stock images: Getty/Tracey Hocking/Unsplash

Topics

Share this article

Recommended by Kayleigh Dray

Life

Why do we get anxiety dreams, and what do they really mean?

Here’s how to decode them.

Posted by
Anna Brech
Published
Life

How do weighted blankets work and can they help anxiety?

All your questions, answered.

Posted by
Lauren Geall
Published
Sleep

Always tired? Your working from home routine could be to blame

Stylist investigates why we’re feeling so exhausted right now.

Posted by
Lauren Geall
Published
Sleep

Why do I wake up at the same time every night?

It’s 2am and you’re wide awake. Again. What’s the deal?

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
Published
Kindfulness

What is acceptance meditation – and how could it help you sleep?

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan says doing this every night in bed could be the key to achieving a state of deep and healing sleep

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
Published