Sleep

“Is it really so bad to go to bed late?” – 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 solicitor wonders what the long-term effects of heading to bed after midnight might be,

A little about me:

  • Age: 31
  • Occupation: Solicitor
  • Number of hours sleep I get each night: 7 (in lockdown, 6 hours pre-Covid)
  • Number of hours sleep I wish I got each night: 8
  • Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems: I have not officially been diagnosed, but struggle to get to sleep almost every night and some nights get very little sleep due to nightmares and infrequent sleep paralysis. I’m supposed to sleep with a mouth guard as I seem to chew the inside of my cheeks in my sleep, too!
  • How much water I drink on average per day: 2-3 litres
  • How much exercise I do on average per week: 9 hours (20 mins Pilates weekday mornings, 1 hour walk weekday evenings, more walking at the weekend and the odd swim outside in the local lido while it’s still relatively warm). Pre lockdown was much more regularly swimming and far more walking during commuting!

Day 1

I am an alarm setter and I have 6 different alarms ranging from 7am – 8.30am. I know this is probably a terrible habit and it seems to have grown from my usual 4 pre lockdown. I’m not a morning person at all and I am always worried I’ll sleep in on a Monday. I get up at 8.30am and have a shower. I’m pretty tired because I still get the weird Sunday night can’t sleep feeling, even in lockdown, and I didn’t fall asleep until about 2am the night before.

I eat my breakfast while whizzing through the weekend’s emails before our weekly Monday morning team catch up on Zoom and try and get a structure for my week by dividing up the big tasks over the days of the week. It’s a busy week ahead because I just settled a case and I am tying up all the loose ends with the Court remotely over the internet.

Sleep Diaries: “I have 6 different alarms ranging from 7am – 8.30am.”
Sleep Diaries: “I have 6 different alarms ranging from 7am – 8.30am.”

I finish work at 6.30pm but I find it really hard to switch off after having a busy day. I have dinner with my family at 8pm and watch crime dramas with my mum. I have a post dinner Cornetto and try and tackle some Stephen King for the work book club that is continuing over lockdown. 

I am a total wimp when it comes to horror and put the book down well ahead of bed because I will be too spooked to sleep! I start winding down to sleep at about 11pm and finally fall asleep around 12.30pm.

Day 2

I’m up at 8.30 and start the day with 20 minutes of Pilates and a giant mug of water that I sip while I am on the mat. I have issues with my hips and sitting on a dining room chair for the first month or so of lockdown to work from home wreaked havoc with my back so I try and commit to this to keep some level of mobility. It’s a good way to wake up too because my brain does not turn on like a light. I skip the relaxation at the end because it always makes me feel guilty for wasting time.

The phone calls start raining in while I am on the mat but I decide to leave them until I’ve finished and started work ‘officially’. I quite miss the morning commute for getting my brain in gear. I start work as soon as I’ve had a shower and almost totally forget breakfast til 11am.

I finish work at 6.30pm and go for a walk for an hour and a half to try and switch off my brain. I’m finding it good to physically leave the ‘office’ (i.e. the garage room) for a bit to try and keep the boundaries of work and home separate.

I’m so busy that I could work well into every evening, but as the pandemic is sadly going nowhere fast I’m trying to stay in relatively good habits. Dinner is chicken and roasted vegetables at 8pm and then I read and watch TV. I finally fall asleep about 12.30am.

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Day 3

I slept really badly and kept waking up all night, so I stay in bed until about 8am. My back has seized up during the night so I do some stretches and have a hot shower to try and ease it out. I have breakfast at about 9.30am while I sort through my emails.

woman working from home
Sleep Diaries: “I sit down with my emails for breakfast, with a side of fruit and toast, at 9.20am.”

It’s another night of working late because the pandemic hasn’t put the brakes on the legal world in the way we thought it would at all – everything has been surprisingly adaptable and I am as busy as ever. I stop work about 7.30pm for a curry with my family. 

I spend the evening with my mum watching period dramas, which is like a giant wholesome hug for my brain and eyes. I spend some time doing a face mask in the evening because I love washing my face at the end of the day and find it so relaxing. 

I have every intention of getting an early night because of the bad night’s sleep but it doesn’t work out because my back is still so sore and I fall asleep at about 1am.

Day 4

I wake up twice in the night, probably because of the sore back, and finally get up at 8.20am. I start the day with a giant glass of water and hay fever tablets. Oh, the glamour!

I do some back stretches and have a shower, before sitting down with my emails for breakfast, with a side of fruit and toast, at 9.20am.

lack-of-sleep-skin-repair-effects
Sleep Diaries: “I kept waking up all night again and slept terribly

I log off at about 6.00pm and do some housework and cleaning to a podcast, which I find really therapeutic. It always feels like I’m organising my brain too. I go for a very brisk walk with my mum at 6.45pm and have salmon for dinner for brain food. 

I try and read more Stephen King but have to stop at about 9pm because it is definitely not bedtime reading for someone with an overactive imagination like me. I swap to reading a book about history to try and reduce my screen time before bed and get to sleep about 12.30pm.

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Day 5

I kept waking up all night again, and, while I’m up at 7.30, I just don’t have the motivation to leap out of bed. I finally summon up the courage to start the day at 8.10. I do my usual 20 minutes or so of Pilates and as usual skip the relaxation ending because I never feel like I can justify the couple of minutes it takes, even in lockdown (terrible, I know). Surely it’s the same if you are using the time to tidy away the mat, right? That’s therapeutic?!

My sister has beaten me to the shower so I try not to let the unproductivity guilt seep in and read a bit until she’s done. I’m currently reading Black Tudors which is so interesting I almost don’t notice my sister leaving the shower at 8.50. As it’s now Friday I start the day with sourdough toast, fancy butter and an iced caramel coffee (which is a total mistake and gives me the jitters – I’m so sensitive to caffeine) and log on at 9.30.

Sleep Diaries: “I start the day with an iced caramel coffee (which is a total mistake and gives me the jitters – I’m so sensitive to caffeine).”

My hairdresser comes over to cut and dye my hair in the evening. I’m still working until late so carry on going til 7.40pm, squinting at the screen without my glasses on as I’m so scared of getting dye on them. I have a big court hearing come up and there are lots of documents to get ready. To be honest I end up a headache because of all the squinting but at least I feel like I’ve made a bit of progress. 

It’s hard to turn off my brain without a commute. I miss that one and a half hours of time that I could use for reading or a crossword or just staring out of a window without any guilt for not being more productive.

I have my hair cut and then have a shower and get in my pjs early, which always feels wholesome and comforting, like being a kid again. We have a late family dinner of pizza because of the hair chopping and I watch TV with my parents until about 11. I finally go to bed and end up falling asleep about 1am. 

The best part about Friday night is turning off all the alarms. I’m meeting two of my oldest friends for a socially distanced walk tomorrow afternoon so there is no pressure to be up which is my main requirement for a Saturday morning. 

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

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

“I hate to say it but here we have the typical lawyer pattern of mental overload throughout the day, eating too late, going to bed too late, and missing that ‘sweet spot’ between 10 and 11pm when it’s easiest to fall asleep and then waking up far too late after several hits of the snooze button. Sorry! 

“You’ve got some great healthy habits but you really do need to stay on the mat and do the wind down as you’re like a tightly coiled spring by the time you get into bed and then can’t wind down and sleep.”

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Research has shown that, in the first few hours of deep sleep, your body is doing all the things it needs to do to re-energise.

Once this is done, you then move into the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which allows your brain time to consolidate information and refresh. If you don’t give yourself a full eight hours, you miss out on one of these vital steps, and so won’t perform with mental efficiency the next day.

Dr Nerina adds: “You need to take more conscious ‘stop and breathe’ breaks during the day in which you relax your jaw, breathe deeply from your belly, get out of your head, climb back into your body and feel your feet on the ground. 

“And can you get to bed a bit earlier please?”

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.

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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

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