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“How can I stop my energy levels from fluctuating all the time?” 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 27-year-old journalist with epilepsy learns how to get the ‘optimal rest’ she needs to help manage her condition.

A little about me:

Age: 27

Occupation: journalist

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 4-6 hours

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

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems (insomnia/sleep apnea): I have epilepsy which means sleep is important. However, recently I’ve had all my seizures upon waking so I occasionally feel too scared to get to sleep, just in case I have a seizure upon waking. I have been prescribed sleeping pills in the past to deal with a traumatic event that meant I could not sleep for about 4-5 months.

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: I occasionally have nightmares.

How much water do you drink on average per day: 500ml-1 litre

How much exercise do you do on average per week: I swim twice a week and go to the gym twice a week (minimum).

Day 1

I get home from an idyllic weekend of swimming and walking with friends in Dartmouth around 10pm, after which I unpack and make a late dinner – a chilli and yogurt chicken curry.

I accidentally eat a bag of sweets with my dog (he doesn’t get any obvs) before realising that was perhaps not the best idea as I’m already far too alert at night anyway and the extra sugar won’t help at all. But it’s done now, and I decide to head up to bed.

Once I’m there I read some Private Eye and watch some TikToks before switching the lights out at 12:20pm. I only wake once during the night (at 3:33am) but force myself to go back to sleep.

I wake up to my alarm at 7.15am and head straight out for an open water swim in the serpentine to celebrate a fellow swimmer’s birthday. The cold water soon gets rid of my sleepy head and it’s all smiles as we emerge from the water and share cake, brownies, snacks, coffee and tea.

Cold water swimmers
“The cold water soon gets rid of my sleepy head and it’s all smiles as we emerge from the water.”

Day 2

I accidentally end up on a very long walk with my puppy today because I stumble across a rowing regatta and decide to walk up and down the river.

Once I get home I cook some greens and add them to the leftover curry from last night, and then spend my evening doing research for a pitch.

That takes me until around midnight, when I realise I need to get ready for bed, so I do my skincare routine, drink some water, brush my teeth and get into bed around 12:30pm. However I really struggle to sleep once the lights are out, so I read my book for an hour or so until my eyelids begin to get heavy and I fall asleep.

I wake up at 8am in the morning after a full night’s sleep and check some emails with some tea and my absolute favourite, porridge.

Day 3 

I treat myself to two coffees today so I feel more energised to begin with, but slump pretty quickly afterwards. My relationship with caffeine is bizarre – I reckon its linked to my cycle as I am ovulating and therefore much more exhausted than usual. I could easily sleep the entire day and night when I am ovulating.

In a bid to overcome my exhaustion I head out for a run at lunchtime, and make burgers and a vegan chocolate and raspberry birthday cake for my cousin after work (it is her and her twins’ birthday today).

I don’t find myself feeling tired until 1am – perhaps due to the hormones – so I get ready for bed around 12:30am by completing my well-researched skincare routine, changing into my pyjamas and sinking into bed. I’m out like a light, and am sound asleep by 2:30am.

I wake up again at 9am feeling groggy with some major brain fog, which leaves me feeling a little disorientated. However, I get up to face the day by splashing myself with some cold water and making a cup of the strongest coffee I own.

A collection of skincare products
“I get ready for bed around 12:30am by completing my well-researched skincare routine, changing into my pyjamas and sinking into bed.”

Day 4

I’ve been rushed off my feet all day today due to a combination of work, meetings and my dog. Once I’m finished I sit down to have a baked potato and beans at home before heading into London around 9:30pm to check out the re-opening of a Soho club with an old friend and former lover.

Once I’m there I buy myself a glass of whisky and another man kindly buys me two shots (they’ll definitely make my sleep worse, but are much appreciated).

I get back home around 2am, take off all my makeup and get into bed still smelling of my perfume. I also check my alarm is set for the morning before falling asleep.

I wake up at 9am and regret not going swimming as it is sunny and gorgeous outside. I make myself an iced coffee and some avocado on toast with sriracha and chilli flakes for breakfast, before tackling my work emails and taking a brisk walk outside.

Day 5

My period is due imminently so I feel extremely tired all day – it’s a serious energy zapper. I have a good (but big) day at work though and manage to reply to everyone and sort my diary out for next week. I had a good email today so I’m feeling extremely happy.

In the evening I head out to meet friends for St Patricks Day – I’m really happy to see them as it has been a while since we were all together. I’m still pretty low energy, but have half a Guinness and manage to have a fun dance to the Irish jigs.

I leave the pub at 11pm with a friend as we both have to be up early, and I’m in bed by 1am feeling a little dehydrated – a big pint of water before bed is needed.

I sleep terribly and spent most of the night laying in bed restlessly – I only feel tired around 6am so snooze my 7am alarm when it goes off. I wake up properly at 9am and drink some more water, but I still feel terrible so I grab some picky bits from the fridge and take a walk outside.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “It’s lovely to be able to help a fellow open water swimmer! You’ve got some good habits but there’s room for improvement, particularly given your epilepsy. You’re spot on in understanding that sleep is going to be the key to managing your condition, but unfortunately you’re not making the choices that will help you to get the kind of sleep that you need.

“Where do we start? You definitely need to take on board my five non-negotiables. You don’t appear to be eating breakfast everyday, and you’re fueling yourself on caffeine. This isn’t working for you at all as your energy levels are yo-yoing, especially at certain stages of your cycle.

“I don’t want to be a killjoy, but you really need to be off your phone and switch the lights out earlier. That 90-minute phase of pre-midnight sleep is going to be absolutely crucial for you given your epilepsy and need for optimal rest – I can’t stress this enough. An electronic sundown at least an hour before you get into bed will really help you to fall asleep easier.”

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

Dr Nerina continues: “The clock-watching during the night also needs to stop! This is creating hypervigilance – the opposite of what is needed to get a good night’s sleep. Oh, and I suspect you could do with increasing your hydration levels to at least two litres a day to optimise your brain chemistry. Alkalising the water with a pinch of natural sea salt will give you more bang for your buck.

“Some big changes are needed here but it will be all worth it if you have the kind of energy that you really deserve to have.”

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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 your name, age and any sleep problems you’re dealing with, using ‘SLEEP DIARIES’ as the subject. We look forward to hearing from you.

Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan

Other images: Getty/Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

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