Sleep

“Is a gratitude journal the secret to a better night’s sleep?” 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 presenting these diaries to sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan for analysis.  

In this week’s Sleep Diaries, a 29-year-old NHS safeguarding children’s advisor/nurse explains how she uses a gratitude journal to combat her anxiety. Please note that this Sleep Diary was written shortly before Christmas and the subsequent nationwide lockdown.

A little about me:

Age: 29

Occupation: NHS safeguarding children’s advisor/nurse

Number of hours sleep I get each night: 7-8

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

How much water I drink on average per day: At least litres a day.

How much exercise I do on average per week: Try to move most days, either walking or cardio.

Day 1

I wake up at 6:35 am and go for a 30-minute walk with my husband before working from home for the day. I get back and have breakfast, before getting ready for work:I’m delivering training virtually today, which I am very nervous about. 

Possibly because I’m feeling anxious, I snack quite a bit today – including some not so healthy, sugary snacks – but clock up around 7,000 steps, too (probably because I spend the evening sorting the Christmas decorations out, so don’t sit down much!). 

After dinner, I have a quick bath at 10:30 pm, and get into bed around 15 minutes later. Before falling asleep, I fill in my gratitude journal, which gives me time to reflect on the day. I fall asleep straight away from what I remember. 

A gratitude journal
Sleep diaries: gratitude journals are associated with dozing off faster and sleeping longer and better.

Day 2

My alarm goes off at 7:00 am today, and I feel energised when it does. So, making the most of this sensation, I do a 25 minute HIIT workout before work. 

I’m delivering training virtually again this morning, but I feel slightly more relaxed about it. That is, of course, until I start getting a migraine with aura just before the online session is due to begin.

I take a tablet and manage to get through the training somehow, and feel my stress levels rising as I do so. And the afternoon is also busy work wise, which means I barely have time to myself until I clock off for the day.

I make a point of having a relaxing evening and, after dinner, go for a 30-minute walk in the dark with husband to get some steps in (again, my grand total clocks in at around 7,000). 

When I get into bed at 10:00 pm, I’m feeling much better. I fill in my gratitude journal and fall asleep quickly.

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Day 3

I wake up at 6:35 am, almost half an hour before my alarm, as I desperately need a wee. Once this is taken care of, I get back into bed with an aim of sleeping as much as possible before I have to get up; cue me snoozing, missing my alarm, and failing to get out of bed until 7:15 am. 

To counter the stress of the past few days, I incorporate 10 minutes of mindfulness into my morning routine (I squeeze it in before breakfast, which I take at around 8:00 am). 

Today is a bit different, as I actually go into the office to work – and it’s actually not that busy for once, although I only have time for a short walk in the rain afterwards (today is a 4,600 steps kind of day). 

The evening is pretty simple: I make dinner, watch TV, fill in my gratitude journal, then fall asleep around 10.50 pm.

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Sleep diaries: “I often find myself watching TV before bed.”

Day 4

I wake up with my alarm at 7:00 am, get ready, and head back into the office. I am pinned to my desk, so barely move all day – I only manage around 2,000 steps. 

When I get home, I make dinner and do a 25-minute yoga video while it’s cooking. 

I spend the evening watching TV and on my phone checking social media, messaging friends, and online shopping. I eat some chocolate, have a short bath, and head to bed for 10.45 pm, where I make the time to fill in my gratitude journal before falling asleep at 11pm.

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Day 5

Despite setting my alarm for 7:15 am, I hit snooze because I wake up with very little energy, so wind up staying in bed until 8:00 am. 

When I eventually get up, I use the Headspace app to do a 10-minute mindfulness exercise, before rushing to get ready. Thankfully, I’m working from home today, so I have a bit more time on my hands before logging on at 9.

I head to a body combat class at the gym after work (they’ve finally reopened after closure due to lockdown 2.0) and it feels so good to get back to group exercise, despite being a really hard workout!

My husband cooks dinner, so it’s ready for me when I get home, and we treat ourselves to a mince pie afterwards as we watch TV.

We’re in bed by 11:00 pm as we’re both tired, but I still make sure I fill in my gratitude journal before falling asleep soon after

brunch-shakshuka-recipe-eggs
Sleep diaries: “You should ensure you’re having a good protein-rich breakfast, as this will help to calm your nervous system and resource you for your work without leaving you depleted.”

Throughout the week, I ensure I eat three balanced meals a day, including usually 3-5 portions fruit and veg . I do notice, though, that I snack on sweet things for comfort when feeling stressed or anxious, which happens more often than not this week. 

I also notice that, on some mornings, I wake up feeling like I have been grinding my teeth: my mouth is very achey.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You seem admirably self-aware and tuned in to yourself, and I love so many of your habits and self-care routines – particularly the gratitude journal.”

Researchers at the University of Manchester have actually looked at how gratitude affects people’s quality of sleep. Their study included over 400 adults of all ages – 40% with sleep disorders – who completed questionnaires that asked about gratitude, sleep, and pre-sleep thoughts.

Gratitude was related to having more positive thoughts, and fewer negative ones, at bedtime. This, in turn, was associated with dozing off faster and sleeping longer and better.

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “As you seem worried about your occasional stress-snacking, though, I’m wondering if I can help you to overcome this by getting to the root cause?” 

“While it’s great that you keep a gratitude journal, I would also recommend keeping a journal for just dumping all your negative thoughts and feelings. This could really help the migraines and clenching of the jaw, which can sometimes be related to suppressing and holding emotions in.

“You need to find some constructive way of letting go, particularly given the nature of your work. Mindfulness meditation is good, but you could also try a breathwork practice which really helps with releasing emotions: I recommend Artur Paulins’ Breathwork and Breathzone London’s Melike Hussein, both of which can be found on Instagram, as well as the Spotify podcast And Breathe With Rebecca Dennis.

“And I know I go on about this endlessly, but you should ensure you’re having a good protein-rich breakfast (try this amazing shakshuka recipe), especially if you’re delivering training, as this will help to calm your nervous system and resource you for your work without leaving you depleted.”

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To find out more about gratitude, and purchase your own MY Journal (£29.99), check out the Mynd Map website.

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.

Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan

Images: Getty/Unsplash

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