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

“What are the dos and don’ts of napping for adults?” 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 32-year-old journalist wonders if afternoon naps might help her regain her social life as she continues to do shift work.

A little about me:

Age: 32

Occupation: journalist

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

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

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: I’m not sure but I always start the day with a big glass, continue to keep sipping throughout the day, and have another big glass just before bed.

How much exercise I do on average per week: usually five times a week; it’s a mix of runs and home workouts

Day 1

Yesterday I went to the cinema and shared a bottle of champagne (one cannot turn down free bubbles), then ate a pizza before getting into bed around 11:30pm. I regret it today when my alarm goes off at 5:50am; ugh.

I go downstairs, drink a large glass of water (just like I do first thing every morning!) and curl up on the sofa with my laptop to start work at 6am. I feel very tired and a tiny bit delicate, so I drink water, orange juice and have a banana for breakfast. It’s really rainy outside and windy today, so at lunch I stay in and have soup and a slice of bread. 

Once I finally finish work at 4pm (I was meant to finish hours ago, but oh well), I take myself swimming and do 15 laps (in the Olympic pool, no less!), then run some errands at the shopping centre. After cancelling tonight’s cinema plans because I’m really tired, I end up watching a film on my laptop while tidying my room and doing some fake tanning.

Finally, I read for half an hour in my newly-made bed with a candle, then fall asleep around 10:30pm with my trusty eye mask in place. I sleep soundly.

Underwater view of adult female swimmer having broken the water surface with dive
Sleep diaries: “I make sure to go swimming after work.”

Day 2

I wake up at 6am in a panic, but then realise I don’t have to start work until 7am today (it’s the weekend shift!), so I close my eyes again and drift in and out until I’m up at 7am.  Then, I crack on with work from my bed until 11 am – making sure to down some water, eat a banana and cereal as I do so. 

I suppose Saturdays are slightly less stressful workwise, but also it’s quite boring having no one to talk to, which means that I can feel pretty lethargic. So, when I break for ‘lunch’, I take myself for a 5k run. Once I get back, I tuck into an almond croissant, followed up by an egg on toast.

I finish my shift in the living room at 4pm. I know I haven’t been drinking as much water as I should and I have a date at the pub tonight, so I make a last effort attempt to glug some. It proves a good decision, as I’m out until midnight drinking gin and tonics – and, yes, I eat a vat of pasta when I get in.

After downing lots of water, I crawl into bed. I fall asleep by around 1am.

Day 3

I don’t work Mondays so, despite waking up at 6am as usual, i turn back over in bed and try to sleep for another hour. Despite being tired, though, I can’t seem to nod off. 

Defeated by my own wakefulness, I get up, have breakfast, drink some water and read my book. Then, I run a bath at 9am and read for an hour and a half in there. Afterwards, I treat myself to a little nap afterwards in bed (yes, it’s a very lazy day). 

When I wake up, I get ready and walk the 30-minute route to Tesco to do my food shop and stock up on healthy food. When I get back, I watch a film and tidy my flat, then read for half an hour.

I climb into bed at 10pm. Not too shabby.

Young woman lying down on sofa in living room covered by blanket. Unrecognizable person.
Sleep diaries: “I’m exhausted, so I have an hour-long nap.”

Day 4

I wake up at 5am feeling like I’ve been hit by a bus, and drift in and out of sleep until my alarm goes off at 5:30am. Just like any sane person, I keep hitting snooze until 5:50am. 

When I’m finally up, I make sure to drink water and eat breakfast straight away, before starting work at the desk in my bedroom. 

To perk myself up, I treat myself to an iced coffee – my first coffee in over a week. And it helps, kind of; I work through until 1pm. 

When I clock off for the day, I cycle for half an hour and then head back to the cinema. When I get home, I lie in bed for an hour  chatting on WhatsApp. And then, because I’m a woman on a mission, I go for a 5k run at 7pm.

Once that’s done, I have veggies for tea at 8:30pm and wind up watching a TV show for work afterwards. To wind down, I read for half an hour, then head to bed at 10:30pm. However, I’m so anxious about tomorrow (I’m going to the office for the first time) that I don’t get to sleep until midnight.

Day 5

I wake up at about 5am today – earlier than normal, I know, but I want to get ahead with work and still start at 6am before cycling into the office for 9am. 

I eat cereal and falafel, and snack on fruit throughout the day. I take myself for a quick 20-minute walk at lunchtime, too.

I clock off at 3pm feeling utterly exhausted, so treat myself to an hour-long nap as soon as I get home. Afterwards, I somehow get up and do a kettlebell workout at 6pm. 

I know I probably didn’t drink as much water today because I was in the office, so try to make up for it now. Then, I head out for a half hour walk before dinner, then settle down to read in bed. I’m asleep by 11pm, and I feel so lucky that I don’t have to start work until 9am tomorrow; it means I can sleep until 7am!

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “I’m impressed; you’ve got some great healthy habits and clearly like to enjoy life, too. All you need is a little bit of tweaking to give you more energy and a better night’s sleep – such as (sorry) not eating so close to your bedtime. 

“Try to eat your last big meal of the day at least two to three hours before going to sleep. And, if you are awake until late in the night and four or five hours have passed since you ate your last big meal, then you can have a little snack of something easily digestible (I suggest fruit) before bedtime.”

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

    Dr Nerina continues: “Your exercise habits are great, caffeine intake minimal and you’re very aware of the need to hydrate, especially as you enjoy your nights out and a bit of alcohol. And I love that you’re treating yourself to the occasional nap; it’s ideal for your early shift.

    “That being said, however, you need to ensure that you don’t over-nap – this means not napping after 4pm and, ideally, no longer than 30 minutes, otherwise it will affect your ability to sleep at night. Try, too, to make sure you nap in a quiet, dark place with a comfortable room temperature and few distractions, and give yourself time to wake up properly before resuming any strenuous activities.”

    Dr Nerina concludes: “I wonder if you could increase your breakfast protein intake, as this would help both your sleep and morning energy levels. I know you like your eggs, but Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, or smoked salmon would work just as well if you’d like some variety – and even something as simple as toast and peanut butter would work, as it’s rich in heart-healthy fats and a good source of protein.

    “Good luck!”

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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/Unsplash/Ben Blennerhassett/Taisiia Shestopal

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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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