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 paralegal wonders why she’s finding it so hard to switch off at bedtime.
A little about me:
Number of hours sleep you get each night: between six to eight hours
Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: at least eight
Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems: no
Do you measure your sleep in some way (e.g. using your phone or wearable): yes, a Fitbit watch
How much water you drink on average per day: two to three litres
How much exercise I do on average per week: I go walking four or five times each week
I’m working from home today, so I find it easier to drink more regularly; I’m up to 2.5l in no time. But, while I’m meant to finish at 5pm, it’s been a busy day, so by the time I log off it’s 6.15pm.
I go for a 30-minute walk around the block (which helps calm me down) before eating a prawn salad for dinner. I have a cup of green tea and watch a series on TV. At the same time, I find myself scrolling Instagram, searching the internet, and WhatsApping my friends (we’re planning a hen do!).
I have ‘screen time’ on my phone which stops any social media apps being used after 10pm during the week, but I cancel this and continue to use social media apps until 11pm. Then, I decide it’s time to go to bed, so I wash my face and set my alarm for 7.45am.
By the time I get into bed it’s 11.30pm, but it takes me a while to switch off (my brain is thinking about the hen do plans). When I eventually fall asleep around midnight, I sleep deeply – although I wake up briefly at 4am to go to the toilet.
I wake up before my alarm at 7.30am, but I still feel quite tired, so I hit the snooze button a few times before I get up. When I do, I have my breakfast and leave the house to drive to the office.
As it’s Friday, I spend the morning at the office, but have to leave at 2pm because opening hours have been reduced due to Covid-19. I head home, make myself some lunch, and wind up working late (around 7pm).
It’s been another busy and stressful day. In fact, I’m leaving my job next week, so I am working hard to get everything organised before my last day. I drink less than usual (1.5L) and I have not exercised. There is no time for a walk after work, so to celebrate making it to the end of the week I have a gin and tonic.
For dinner, I have eggs and avocado on toast, which I eat at the table with my mum and dad. I have a green tea and spend the rest of the evening working on a trainee solicitor application for a job opening which closes next week. I finally stop at around 10.30pm, and then watch TV for an hour.
When the show finishes, I have a bath, and then get ready for bed, although I do not feel relaxed or tired. I get into bed at around 11.45am but it takes me a while to switch off (I am thinking about the job application and worrying about work).
Finally, I fall asleep around 12.30am but it is not a deep slumber. I wake up to go to the toilet around 5am and all asleep straight away.
I wake up naturally at 8.00am (no alarm set because it’s Saturday). I do not feel very refreshed, so I snooze for an hour.
I am not working today and so, as soon as I stop snoozing my alarm and wake up, I scroll through social media and check my messages on my phone. Then, I make myself a breakfast of bran flakes and blueberries.
Having spent most of the day outside walking and chatting with a friend, I feel quite calm and relaxed. I eat curry for dinner at around 7pm at the table with mum and dad, then spend the rest of the evening watching one of my favourite chick flick films.
I drink a cup of chamomile tea at around 9pm, and start to feel tired after having an active day, so I wash and moisturise my face, brush my teeth and get ready for bed at 11pm.
I get into bed at 11.15pm and spend 30 minutes or so searching for job vacancies on my phone. I fall asleep straight away (sometime around 12am) and sleep deeply until I wake up naturally at 9.25am (no alarm set because it’s Sunday). Thankfully, I do not wake up during the night.
I feel very calm and refreshed when I wake up but, as I’m not working again today, I let myself snooze until 9.25am.
Upon waking, I briefly check my messages on my phone and scroll through social media, all while eating a bowl of bran flakes.
I spend most of my day working on a job application, although I get out for an hour and a half’s walk at 4pm, which I follow up with a long bubble bath. Dinner is a Sunday roast (and a mug of my favourite green tea) and, once I’ve finished eating, I get back to my job application.
At around 9pm, I finish up and watch TV for two hours, but I’m not feeling tired just yet (possibly because I slept in and have been working late). To kill time, I decide to make my lunch for work tomorrow and get my bag ready.
I end up getting ready for bed at around 11.45pm, set my alarm for 7.30am and get into bed at midnight. It feels like it takes me a while to get to sleep (I don’t nod off until after midnight) because I am thinking about work tomorrow and my job application. I wake up a few times during the night and wake up before my alarm at 7.00am. I do not feel that refreshed so I snooze my alarm a few times.
It’s my last day at my current job, so I feel very stressed getting everything sorted. I have not drunk as much water as usual (I only manage to down a litre).
When I finally finish up, I go for a 45 minute walk after work to try and wind down. Dinner tonight is quiche and salad, which I sit down for at 7pm with my mum and dad. Afterwards, I have a green tea and decide to put on a face mask and watch a series on TV. However, I have not checked my phone very much throughout the day, so I end up scrolling on Instagram and WhatsApp at the same time.
I’m not calm, but I start to feel tired at 11pm, so I wash and moisturise my face and brush my teeth. I get into bed at 11.30pm, but spend around 45 minutes thinking about whether I got everything sorted at work and replaying the day in my head.
I get up and go to the toilet and have some Nytol which I hope will help me. I finally go to sleep at around 1am. I sleep fairly deeply and do not wake up throughout the night, although I have vivid weird dreams. I wake at 8am (no alarm set) and feel refreshed upon waking. Sort of refreshed, anyway.
So, what does it all mean? A sleep expert offers her thoughts
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “What’s going on here is quite simple – too much scrolling time. The nature of your work is very information driven and this, compounded with the multi-screening activity in the evening, is why it’s taking you such a long time to get to sleep.
“The blue light these devices emit makes sleeping more difficult, because it blocks a hormone called melatonin that makes you sleepy, so your brain is tricked into a state of high-alert; what’s that notification? What’s the news update? What’s my schedule tomorrow?
“To this end, then, I suspect that your sleep is not very restorative, which explains why you’re waking up tired and needing to snooze.”
“Are you ready to clean up your act with the electronic devices? You have a ‘screentime’ function on your phone, true, but you need to use it!”
Dr Nerina continues: “When we’re feeling anxious about life, it’s all too easy to scroll endlessly in the evening – anything but have to think about the things we’re really worried about. The problem is that when you turn the light off the problems are still there buzzing around in your mind.
“Now, you’re only young, so you’re getting away with this at the moment but, in the long term, particularly given the pressures of the legal world, you need to adopt some better sleep hygiene routines.
“To that end, keep the phone out of the bedroom if you can, and try to read a book before bed rather than watch TV. I promise you will thank yourself for it the next morning.”
If you would like to take part in Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org 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/Ben Blennerhassett/Taisiia Shestopal
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.