Sleep Diaries: what impact does our diet and lifestyle really have on our sleep?

“What is an electronic sundown, and how can it help me sleep?” 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 Diaries, a 25-year-old police public protection bureau officer wonders why she’s so tired all the time.

A little about me:

Age: 25

Occupation: police public protection bureau officer

Number of hours sleep you get each night: five to six hours

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: eight to nine hours straight

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems: none

Do you measure your sleep in some way (e.g. using your phone or wearable): nope

How much water you drink on average per day: 1 litre and 1.5 probably on exercise days

How much exercise I do on average per week: three to four hours a week.

Day 1

I go to sleep around 12:30am with an alarm set for 7am, and put on my rain sounds to help me drift off. I wake up at 5:05am, however, and wind up tossing and turning until 6am, before giving up and picking up my phone. 

I know at this point I will not make it to the office for 8am, as I’m so exhausted, and so I begin texting colleagues to let them know I will be working from home. This makes me feel uneasy as I haven’t worked from home in a while now and my usual spot is now the office. 

Despite giving myself permission to sleep until 8am, I spend another hour feeling wide awake, and before I know it, my alarm is going off again. 

I still can’t muster the energy to get out of bed until 8:30am, but when I do I immediately go to my desk and log on. The day is sluggish and my mood is off. I try to make myself feel better with a big cooked breakfast rather than my usual on-the-go stuff, but I still felt pretty lethargic.

I work through until 7pm, when I have a quick FaceTime with my sister. Afterwards, I force myself to workout because I’m bulking and training and had a call with my PT yesterday, so I’d feel super guilty if I didn’t! 

Afterwards, I don’t want to do anything as I’m exhausted, but I make sure I complete my skincare routine before bed. I nod off to sleep around 11:30pm.

Shot of a young woman sleeping with a mask on in bed
Sleep Diaries: I wake up feeling utterly exhausted.

Day 2

I wake up in the night around 2am, but I quickly nod off again. I wake up again later and, rather than look at my phone, I screenshot the time with my eyes closed so I can take a look later (it turns out it was 5am). 

Just before my 8am alarm, I wake up and force myself downstairs for a lazy breakfast before work begins at 8.30am. I feel better today but still felt like I’m struggling to concentrate. It doesn’t help that the apartment looks messy; I keep thinking that, if I tidied up, I might feel better. So I do it, and I do! 

After work, I truly believe I can squeeze in a workout, and even change in to my workout clothes, but I ended up getting distracted and head out to get some groceries instead. I still count this as a success, though, as I didn’t leave the house yesterday; there’s a lot to be said for fresh air!

My boyfriend is over tonight, so we eat dinner together and relax on the sofa in front of the TV. I speak to him about my sleep troubles and he suggests eating earlier and not being on my phone right up until I go to sleep. 

We end up going to bed pretty late (around 1am) but I nod off pretty quickly and sleep through until he wakes up around 5am to go to the toilet; I am a really light sleeper. Eventually, though, I nod off again..

Day 3

We wake up around 8:30am and I don’t want to get out of bed at all as I’m so comfortable. I mention to him that he was grinding his teeth in his sleep, and it makes me think about how stress can manifest in our sleep. 

Just before 9am, I haul myself out of bed and head straight to my desk. My boyfriend gets up shortly after and makes us breakfast, which I make sure to step away from the desk for so I can eat with him. 

Soon after, he leaves for work and I return to mine. Surprisingly I feel much more energised despite the lack of sleep, and find time to phone my mum during my break and cook lunch while doing so. And I actually manage to do my workout in the evening, too, before showering and doing my skincare as usual.

Oatmeal porridge with berries and honey on wooden table.
Sleep Diaries: I take a moment away from my desk to have breakfast with my boyfriend.

I decide I am going to the office tomorrow for at least one day this week, so I pack my breakfast in the evening (I never have time in the morning if I don’t). Then, I treat myself to an early bedtime of 9pm, knowing I have to be up for 7am if I want to get to the office.

While I’m in bed, I scroll through my phone until I feel sleepy. However, my friend unexpectedly calls me at 9.30pm me and we end up chatting on the phone until 12am! Afterwards, I set my alarm for 7:10am and I play rain sounds until I fall asleep (which happens surprisingly quickly).

Day 4

I wake up around 2am, but fall back asleep shortly after, feeling pretty exhausted and knowing I still have a good five or so hours to go. 

Thankfully, I wake up naturally just before my alarm around 7am, and force myself to get up immediately. I feel good about going in to the office; maybe because it’s my usual place of work, but maybe because it’s Friday. However, I end up walking 15 minutes from the carpark to the office because our usual carpark-office shuttle bus is no longer in service, and this definitely stresses me out; I’m going to have to leave the house even earlier from now on, which means less sleep! 

I work in the office, catch up with my colleagues and head out at lunch to grab some food from the outside world. However, being back in the office after working at home all week means that I start flagging around midday! 

I leave the office at 5pm, walk 15 minutes to my car and get home around 6pm (traffic). I am too tired to work out when I got home, so do my my skincare immediately and then lounge around. I head to bed super late, around 2am, because tomorrow is the weekend and I know that I can wake up late. I’d like to say it took me a while to switch off, but somehow lying in bed watching TikTok for three hours makes me think I probably didn’t try…

Day 5

I naturally wake up at 7am which is really frustrating; there’s no way I am getting out of bed before 9am on a Saturday. I end up lying there, scrolling on my phone, until 10am, when I nod off for an hour or so.

When I wake up, I’m not just groggy, I’m also very hungry, and it’s these hunger pangs that force me out of bed. It’s nearer to lunch now, so I skip breakfast and tuck into some leftovers because I am too tired to do anything but reheat some food. 

Despite feeling wiped out, I get dressed, make a shopping list and walk to my car to go to the supermarket… but then I change my mind at the last minute, turning around and going straight back to bed (still wearing my jeans). I truly feel like I crash on the weekends these days, and ,y family and friends think it’s because I haven’t taken any annual leave all year. They say I’m burnt out from rarely releasing my stress. 

To make things worse, Mother Nature decides to trick me, and my time of the month begins unexpectedly when I wake up. I feel better for it, though, as this justifies why I’ve been so exhausted. 

The day goes by quickly and before I know it, I am back in bed again. Fingers crossed I feel better for meeting my friend tomorrow…

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You are clearly very anxious about your sleep, and also in a bit of a fatigue cycle – although some of your tiredness during your diary days seems to be related to your menstrual cycle, you’re right. 

“However, there is a bit of a ‘clean up’ needed here, because your boyfriend is right – you need to get off your phone at night. All that blue light is suppressing your body’s release of melatonin, which is the hormone that makes us feel drowsy. And, as you have explained, it isreally disrupting your sleep, causing you to wake more easily and find it more difficult to get back to sleep when you do.”

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

    Dr Nerina finishes: “I suspect your sleep is also of poor quality because of you screening right up until the moment you close your eyes. Not good at all! 

    “With this in mind, I recommend – and you won’t like this, so I’m sorry – keeping your phone out of the room at night, as well as a one hour electronic sundown before getting into bed. This means no TV, no laptops, and no other screens before bed. 

    “Instead, get an old fashioned clock and try to stop looking at the time during the night. I’ve said this before, but it’s normal to wake sometimes in the night – you’re only keeping yourself awake by fretting about it and looking at the time (and it’s even worse that you’re looking at it on an electric screen!). 

    “Better sleep will lead to better energy and more motivation for exercise and resilience to stress. It’s a win-win!”

    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

    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

    Share this article

    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.

    Recommended by Kayleigh Dray