Sleep Diaries: what impact does our diet and lifestyle really have on our sleep?

“Does meditation really help you sleep?” 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 38-year-old PR manager wonders why she’s sleeping so lightly. Could mindfulness meditation be the answer?

A little about me:

Age: 38

Occupation: PR senior account manager

Number of hours sleep you get each night: six or seven

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

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems: no

Do you measure your sleep in some way (e.g. using your phone or wearable): no

How much water you drink on average per day: 1-2 litres

How much exercise I do on average per week: three or four hours

Day 1

It’s a busy evening rushing the kids to their clubs, catching up on housework and arranging a friend’s birthday celebrations, so dinner is a quick veggie pasta at 5pm. At 6pm I take the dog for a walk across fields – the fresh air feels good– and then I put my 6-year-old to bed at 7.30pm. She likes me to stay with her until she falls asleep so I use the time to lie down flat on my back on the floor and take some deep breaths. It feels like the first time I’ve fully relaxed all day.

At 8.30pm I have a cup of tea and some chocolate while chatting with my husband. My phone has been pinging with messages, so I reply to people then check emails, and start mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. I feel tired, but we still watch The Handmaid’s Tale – this episode is particularly violent and sad; it makes me feel on edge.

We go to bed at 10.30pm, where I read my Kindle for a while to help me switch off. I fall asleep quickly but sleep lightly, until my other daughter wakes me at around 4am having had a nightmare. She gets in with us and I go back to sleep squashed in between her and my husband, prompting jittery dreams that I can’t remember in the morning.

Beautiful young woman playing on her digital tablet before bed
Sleep Diaries: I read my Kindle for a while to help me drift off.

Day 2

I open my eyes at 6.15am and my daughter is talking to me – I don’t need an alarm clock as the kids wake up at about 6.30am every day. I get up and start making breakfasts and packed lunches, yet somehow run out of time for my own breakfast before the school run.

It’s another busy day. After a family dinner of chicken and veg stir-fry at 6pm, I chat to a friend on the phone then go for a short dog walk. Before putting the kids to bed, we do colouring and read together. My husband is out so I do a gentle 30-minute yoga routine, and I feel really good afterwards.

Later, I have a cup of chamomile tea while flicking through the TV with the dog on my lap. Then, at 10pm, I have a shower and use a lavender-scented body lotion afterwards. I’m nice and relaxed until I remember I’ve forgotten to do something – I’m annoyed with myself but too tired to do it now so I decide to do it first thing in the morning.

I read my Kindle for around half an hour, jolting awake a couple of times where I must’ve dropped off. I get that a lot – the sensation of falling when drifting off to sleep, then ‘landing’ and waking suddenly. I put the Kindle down and go to sleep at about 11.30pm, falling into a dream about being late to catch a train.

Day 3

I sleep deeply until around dawn (I don’t check the time when I wake during the night), then lightly until getting up at 6.30am. I feel a bit stressed this morning, and make time for fruit, nuts and yoghurt for breakfast but first do that thing I’d forgotten about last night.

At 6pm I have a mackerel salad for dinner (and sneak some chips from the kids’ plates). From 7-8pm me and a friend meet up for a riverside walk with our dogs. I feel happy and relaxed. When I get home, I watch TV with my husband and have a cup of tea and eat biscuits. The viewing is tense (England v Denmark football game) and I’m tired, but I want to see the ending.

By the time I get in bed it’s 11.30pm and it takes me a while to go off to sleep. During the night I get woken up by my husband’s iPad glaring brightly in my face – he’s fallen asleep with it on again, which annoys me! Thankfully, I drift back off quickly.

Breakfast bowl of granola fruit and yoghurt
Sleep Diaries: make time for fruit, nuts and yoghurt for breakfast.

Day 4

I don’t wake up until 7am, as the kids have slept in later than usual. I enjoy waking up slowly in peace and lie there for a few minutes listening to the sound of birds singing. Breakfast is a cup of tea and seeded bagel with almond butter and sliced banana, and I feel refreshed for having it.

It’s the usual afternoon/evening rush of finishing work, picking up the kids from school, taking them to their clubs, doing homework etc. My husband gets home from work early, cooks them dinner and puts them to bed as I’m off to a friend’s house for takeaway pizza. She is going through a bad time.

It’s a very emotional evening and I don’t get home until 2am – the latest I’ve been to bed in months.

Day 5

I didn’t drink alcohol last night but I feel almost hungover and utterly exhausted when my alarm goes off, as if I haven’t slept at all. I’m glad it’s my day off work. I have tea and biscuits, get the kids to school then go on a 1.5 hour walk with the dog. Once that’s done, I grab a coffee and pastry on the way home and spend the day doing housework and gardening.

After I’ve picked the kids up from school, I pop to a friend’s house. I feel really tired but we haven’t caught up with these friends for ages, so I don’t want to cancel. The children eat pizza while we have wine, cheese and snacks. It’s so nice seeing all the children together having fun in the garden, and my friend and I are having a laugh.

I get home at 8pm, and my husband and I spend the next hour getting the kids bathed and in bed. Afterwards, we sit down and chat for a while with the TV on in the background then go to bed at 10.30pm. Even though I’m beyond tired it takes me a long time to get to sleep. As usual, reading helps me switch off, then I sleep quite well until 7am. I’m glad it’s Saturday and as we have no plans this morning we all enjoy a lazy morning in PJs until around 10am. Bliss!

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “I don’t want to be hard on you, as you seem to have good self awareness and have some good habits, but some tweaks are needed when it comes to your sleep routine.

“Now, I love the breathing you do while you’re putting kids to bed, but perhaps more yoga is needed to calm your nervous system before you get into bed. I feel you’re a sensitive sleeper so you really do need to settle yourself before you turn off the light – try more awareness of your breathing, a few earlier nights, and 10 minutes of meditation in the afternoons to bring some calm into your busy days.”

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

    Dr Nerina finishes: “Why the meditation? Well, as per the Sleep Foundation, studies on people experienced in meditation have found that they display improvements in slow-wave sleep and REM sleep, as well as fewer nighttime awakenings. However, it needs to be done daily to reap the benefits!

    “I’m hoping your evening tea is decaffeinated as you have a tendency to sleep lightly. And please, aim for more regular breakfasts and tell hubby to get his iPad out of the bedroom. That blue light won’t be good for either of you!”

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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.

    Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan

    Images: Getty

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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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