Stylist's Sleep Diaries: why do I keep waking up at 2am?

“How can I stop snoring?” – 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 filing these diaries to sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan for analysis.  

In this week’s Sleep Diaries, a 49-year-old teacher admits she snores loudly enough to wake herself up at night. Please note that this diary was penned two weeks prior to England’s ongoing lockdown.

A little about me:

  • Age: 49
  • Occupation: Teacher
  • Number of hours sleep I get each night: 5-6
  • Number of hours sleep I wish I got each night: 8
  • How much water I drink on average per day: 1 litre
  • How much exercise I do on average per week: 1 or 2 hours

Day 1

I wake up at 5.30 am (my alarm is set for 5.50), so get up, get showered, and get dressed rather than hit snooze. Then, I take my Thyroxine tablets and have a vitamin dissolved in water, as well as a coffee with cream, before leaving for work at 6.36 am. 

I get to work at 7.25 am, and have a tea before school starts (followed by another cup of tea at 10am, and a third at 12.30 pm). Lunch is a salad, which I take at 12pm, and I spend the afternoon outside with the children.

Hometime for the kids is at 3.00 pm, and I manage to get home just after 6.00 pm, too, where I have another cup of tea and a glass of water. Dinner tonight is a Quorn escalope, new potatoes, and peas for dinner (as well as a Diet Coke). Then, I watch TV from 7.30 until 8.30 pm.

Sleep Diaries: “I wake up around 5am, before my alarm.”
Sleep Diaries: “I wake up around 5am, before my alarm.”

I get to bed at 10.00 pm but toss and turn due to my coughing and sore throat, so I start looking at my phone. 

Eventually, I fall asleep, but wake myself up snoring at gone midnight, so pop to the bathroom and grab myself a glass of water. At 3.12 am, I wake up again to go to the bathroom (this time, though, because I’ve had a dream that’s woken me up).

Day 2

I wake up before my alarm again today (5.40 am), and, just like yesterday, start the day with my Thyroxine, a pint of water, a dissolved vitamin drink, and coffee with cream.

I’m in the car and off to work by 6.35 am, and make myself a cuppa when I arrive. And, I admit it, another two cups of tea after that.

 It’s salad again for lunch (and another Diet Coke), and the afternoon is spent walking around the playground and carrying equipment in the afternoon. Don’t worry: I do make sure to drink a bottle of water throughout the day. 

I get home at 6.00 pm, have a cup of tea, then settle down to a dinner of mozarella burgers, sweet potato chips and peas at 7.30 pm 

Again, I’m in bed by 10.30 pm but start coughing as soon as my head hits the pillow. To try and stop this, I get up to drink some water… but then I keep needing to go to the bathroom as a result! 

Eventually, I fall asleep, only to wake myself up snoring again at 1.20 am. And, yes, I’m up to go to the bathroom at 3.15 am, too.

Day 3

Writing down my morning routine, I realise it goes off like clockwork: I’m up before my alarm goes off at 5.45 am (again), have a glass of water, a vitamin tablet dissolved in water, and a coffee with cream. And I’m out the front door by 6.35 am. 

I’m at work by 7.30 am, and have a cup of tea (surprise!) before the children arrive. Lunch is at 12 (another salad and Diet Coke), and I’m outside with the children in the afternoon so there’s lots of walking around the playground. 

Sleep Diaries: “I spend two to three hours a day driving to and from work.”
Sleep Diaries: “I spend two to three hours a day driving to and from work.”

I get home at 6.05 pm and make vegetarian chilli for dinner, which we eat at 7.30 pm. 

Unwilling to get caught out by my coughing again, I drink a pint of water before going to bed at 10.50 pm, but I still start coughing when my head hits the pillow so don’t fall asleep until midnight. 

I wake myself up again at 2.50 am, so pop to the bathroom before trying to get back to sleep.   

Day 4

At 5.20am I wake up again with a headache, the same sore throat and a desperate need to go to the bathroom. I eventually fall asleep and start to have vivid dreams about work, waking myself up again at 7.05am. 

Again I get up and make a cup of tea and have some water to drink. Usually I go out for a walk or go somewhere on my day off, but today I am suffering with such a bad headache that I stay home feeling lethargic and achey. 

I make a mushroom omelette at noon but am hungry again at 4pm, so have a sandwich made with low carb bread. Despite this, I feel dizzy and tired and lack energy to do much. 

At 8pm I have a Chinese takeaway, and head to bed at 1am but can’t sleep. My legs are restless and I still have a headache. Around 2am I turn the clock radio away to stop the light annoying me and fall asleep quickly after this. I wake up at 2.50 feeling like I am choking and move onto my side to go back to sleep.

Sleep Diaries: “I fell asleep with my phone in my hand.”
Sleep Diaries: “I fall asleep with my phone in my hand.”

Day 5

I wake up before my alarm at 5.00 am feeling really thirsty, so rush downstairs and down a glass of water before taking my Thyroxine tablets and getting showered and dressed for work. 

Again, I have a coffee with cream and a multivitamin before driving to work at 6.30am, where I promptly make myself a cup of tea upon arrival. 

Lunch today is a tuna mayo sandwich made with low carb bread, and the only exercise during the day is walking around the school and after the children. 

Thankfully, I’m home by 4.30 pm today and, as I’m feeling shattered, I promptly curl up on the sofa to watch some TV with a mug of tea and a glass of water. Later in the evening, I have a homemade curry, along with a very large glass of Pimms and a glass of Diet Coke.

At 11.30 pm, I realise I’m starting to fall asleep in front of the television, so head to bed. But, once I’m there, I’m wide awake and can’t stop tossing and turning. After getting up twice to go to the bathroom, I finally fall asleep, but my snoring and coughing wakes me up at 3.05 am my snoring. I have a terrible headache, so I go and get some water before trudging back to bed.

Come Saturday morning, I’m up at 5.20 am with the same headache, as well as a sore throat and desperate need to go to the bathroom. I eventually fall back asleep, only to have vivid, stressful dreams about work, so wake myself up again at 7.05 am. 

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

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

“We need a hydration intervention here! 

“Your snoring, coughing, dehydration, headaches, dizziness, and low energy could really be eased if you start by upping your water intake. And you need to check your caffeine intake, too, as it is through the roof – that’s what is causing your increased bladder sensitivity and need to go to the toilet at night.”

It’s important to remember that good hydration requires more than drinking water before bed; the NHS says we need to be drinking six to eight glasses of non-caffeinated fluids regularly throughout the day. 

Waiting until bedtime to do your drinking sets you up for multiple nighttime bathroom trips, making it difficult to achieve quality sleep and making it tougher to wake up in the morning. And dehydration causes your mouth and nasal passages to become dry, setting you up for sleep-disruptive snoring and a sore throat in the morning.

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

Dr Nerina continues: “I worry that you are using caffeine as a substitute for food and skipping breakfast – and, while you may not be hungry in the mornings, this pattern of fuelling with caffeine rather than quality calories will not be helping your thyroid issues and fatigue. 

“I really feel you should value yourself enough to seek the help of a good nutritionist. You may then find you have more energy and can do more exercise, which will break the fatigue cycle you seem to be stuck in.”

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/Tracey Hocking/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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