“How do I stay asleep?” 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 37-year-old journal development manager asks why she keeps waking up in the night – and, more importantly, how to stay asleep.

A little about me:

Age: 37

Occupation: journal development manager

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 6-7

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: 8-9

Do you have any sleep conditions: no, but I often experience nightmares

How much water you drink on average per day: 1.5 litres

How much exercise I do on average per week: 4-5 days a week usually for about 50 minutes

Day 1

I finish working at home for the day at 5.15pm, and I’m glad when it does: I had a stressful meeting at 4pm which always leaves me feeling on edge. 

I sit down and have dinner with my family, and wait about an hour after eating before doing some exercise (this time, it’s a Lucy Wyndham-Read YouTube workout for 30 minutes). 

I have a bath and put on my pyjamas before settling down to watch Married At First Sight Australia. Bedtime is around 10.30pm, where I read some of Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers for about 20 minutes, then watch Valeria on Netflix.

I finally start to feel sleepy at 11.25pm, so I turn the TV off and close my eyes. Honestly, I sleep quite well, and while I do wake up a few times in the night, I’m able to get back to sleep pretty quickly. 

A production still of Valeria on Netflix
Sleep Diaries: I watch Valeria on Netflix.

Day 2

I wake up at 7.45am, which is about 15 minutes before my alarm is due to go off, so I wait until 8am to get out of bed. Feeling refreshed from an OK night’s sleep, I start working at 8.30am and have my breakfast of cereal and fruit tea while checking my emails. 

I stop working today at 4.30pm, and sit down for dinner with my family half an hour later. Again, I wait an hour after eating before doing some exercise on my stationary bike, which I pedal for 30 minutes while watching TV. Then I have a FaceTime call with a friend for about an hour and a half. 

After the call I practice Spanish on my Duolingo app for around 20 minutes, watch another episode of Married At First Sight Australia, and head to bed at around 10.30pm where I watch some stuff on Netflix until I start to feel sleepy.  

I turn off the TV at around 11.45pm, and sleep quite well, although I again wake up a few times in the night. 

Day 3

I wake up at 7.45am, hop out of bed, and start working at around 8.30am. I feel quite rested and ready to start the day. 

After finishing work at 4.30pm, I have dinner, then load up another Lucy Wyndham-Read YouTube workout to try. 

After exercising I have a bath, before doing another 20 minutes of Spanish lessons on my Duolingo app. Then, I treat myself to a fruit tea and some cheese before getting myself ready for bed. 

Despite going to my bedroom at 10.30pm, I don’t actually go to sleep until around 12.15am. Yes, fine; I’m watching TV instead of reading my book which might have been a better option, but the TV was more appealing.

I have a bit of a restless night and don’t sleep well at all – which may have something to do with the very strange dreams I have. 

Woman sleeping, plagued by nightmares
Sleep Diaries: My sleep is disturbed by a series of strange dreams.

Day 4

I wake up around 7.30am, but stay in bed until 8am as I feel very tired. Work isn’t too bad, though, and I go out food shopping on my lunch break (the first time I’ve left the house in a couple of weeks – I don’t tend to go out much due to the lockdown). 

It turns into quite a busy day at work, so I spend a lot of time in front of the computer screen trying to prepare a presentation. Still, I log off at 4.30pm and have an early dinner, which means I have time to practise my Spanish and do two 20-minute workouts (stationary bike and YouTube workout). 

After getting washed up, I watch some TV with my family. Then, after a hot drink, I decide to go to bed at 10.30pm. 

I’m feeling quite tired but watch a little bit of The Simpsons before turning off the TV at 11pm. 

Day 5 

My alarm goes off at 7.30am. Despite getting a pretty good night’s sleep, I wake up feeling quite tired and, while I start working at 8am, I don’t manage to get breakfast until 8.45am.

It’s Friday, so I finish work at 4pm and we order pizza for dinner. While I still do a little Duolingo, I decide to have a break from exercising for the week, and spend the evening chatting and watching TV with my family. 

I have half a can of Coke Zero at 9.30pm. As it’s the weekend I don’t set an alarm for the morning, and head to bed at around 11.30pm. The heavy rain outside disturbs my sleep so I wake up several times during the night and it takes me a while to go back to sleep each time. 

I wake up at 8am to go to the bathroom and then I go back to bed, but I’m able to go back to sleep and wake up again at 9.30am. Despite waking up several times during the night, I feel quite rested.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You have some great habits, especially when it comes to your exercise routine. I wonder if you could get more out of it if you exercise straight after work, as it’s a great way of letting go of the work day? However, I understand that you eat with your family and we all need whatever social interaction we can get in these strange times, so please do what works best for you!

“I know you know this already, but watching TV in bed is a very bad habit – and you’re not getting away with it, either, as your sleep seems to be quite restless and fitful. Ideally, you should watch TV and then read for a while before dropping off to sleep.” 

    Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
    Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

    Dr Nerina continues: “Please don’t worry about waking during the night – the average human being wakes around 10 to 15 times a night! This is a primitive survival mechanism that harks back to the days of being a hunter gatherer. If we didn’t do this we might be extinct!

    “If you’re worrying about it, I suggest that you stop measuring your sleep, as this may be causing unnecessary anxiety. And remember, going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day will programme your body to sleep better. 

    “Choose a time when you’re likely to feel tired and sleepy, and stick to it – even on weekends if you can!” 

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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 ‘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

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      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.

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