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“Can eating a protein-rich breakfast help me to feel less tired in the morning?” A sleep expert answers your questions

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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 24-year-old digital journalist discovers the benefits of eating a protein-rich breakfast.

A little about me:

Age: 24

Occupation: digital journalist

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 7-9 hours

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

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

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: I occasionally get very vivid dreams (I suspect these are caused by my antidepressants)

How much water do you drink on average per day: 5-6 glasses 

How much exercise do you do on average per week: I usually go for a run twice a week, plus walk the dog at the weekends. I also do workout videos when it’s too cold/dark to run

Day 1

Today was my first day back at work after a holiday, so I spend the day catching up with emails and trying to get back into the swing of things. The days off really messed with my bedtime routine (I’ve been scrolling on social media until 12:30/1am) so I’m feeling a little tired and decide to try and get into bed on time (I usually aim to be asleep by 10:30pm).

I log off work at 6:30pm (my finish time is 5:30pm) and eat homemade butter chicken for dinner alongside a glass of Coke Zero at 7:30pm before spending time with my family and playing with my dog. I grab a slice of chocolate cake for dessert at 9pm and tune in to a new BBC drama, which finishes at 10pm.

After that is finished I go up to get ready for bed. I enjoy spending time on my skincare in the evening so I take time to cleanse and apply my skincare and brush my teeth. I have a YouTube video on in the background while I do this too – I like to think of this part of the day as my ‘me time’ and enjoy watching a video that lifts my mood (it’s normally a family vlogger channel or something similarly wholesome and easy to watch). I also take my daily medication at this time every day – I take antidepressants for OCD and anxiety.

Skincare products
"I enjoy spending time on my skincare in the evening so I take time to cleanse and apply my skincare and brush my teeth."

I get into bed around 11pm and spend some time scrolling on social media and playing a mobile game before switching it off around 11:30pm (that early bedtime didn’t come to fruition). However, once I switch off my phone I fall asleep pretty quickly and don’t wake until my alarm goes off at 7:45am the next morning.

I snooze the alarm until 8:30am (whoops) before jumping in the shower. I then log on to my laptop for my morning meeting at 9:15. I grab breakfast after the meeting ends at 10am – I don’t have time to make anything so opt for a cereal bar as well as a glass of water and a cup of tea. 

Day 2

I have a busy but productive day at work (my concentration levels feel much better than yesterday) and even go for a walk with my dog at lunchtime (it’s a short one – 1.5km – but the weather is sunny and it lifts my mood).

I end up logging off around 6pm again. I scroll on social media before sitting down for dinner at 7pm – we have ‘breakfast for dinner’ which is essentially a full english but without the sausages, which I hate. I also drink a glass of water.

After spending some time chatting with family and playing with my dog (he always demands some attention after I finish eating), I have a cup of tea and sit down on the sofa at 9pm.

I decide to open the TikTok app to watch a few videos but end up getting sucked in and the next time I realise the time it’s 9:40pm. In an attempt to have an ‘early’ bedtime I head up to bed to get ready and complete my skincare routine/brush my teeth (accompanied by a YouTube video, of course).

I get into bed at 10:15pm and scroll on my phone for a little bit before heading to sleep about 11pm. I wake up one time in the night to go to the toilet (don’t know what time), but otherwise I sleep through.

My alarm goes off at 7:30am but I struggle to get myself out of bed because its freezing cold outside, so I don’t emerge until 8:30am. I have a shower before my morning meeting at 9:15am and then have a slice of toast with Nutella and a glass of water. Mid-morning I have another glass of water and a cup of tea – I’m feeling tired today.

A woman in bed
"My alarm goes off at 7:30am but I struggle to get myself out of bed because it's freezing cold outside, so I don’t emerge until 8:30am."

Day 3

I have a dentist appointment so finish work early at 4pm. I get home from that about 5:30pm and have katsu curry with rice and broccoli for dinner at 6:30pm.

I follow my usual routine – I spend some time socialising, play with the dog and then sit down on the sofa around 9pm. I watch another episode of the BBC drama I started earlier in the week, which ends at 10pm. I should go to bed, but I don’t – my Mum and I want to finish a Netflix series we’ve been watching, so do that (while also snacking on crisps).

We finish the series and talk about it for a bit (the ending was amazing) before we both head up to bed around 11:15pm. I quickly do my skincare and brush my teeth (with a YouTube video in the background) before jumping into bed. I switch everything off at midnight.

It’s my day off today so I treat myself to a lie-in. I wake up around 9:30am but laze about until 10:30am. I then get up and have a cereal bar for breakfast as well as two glasses of water, before having a shower and putting on a nice outfit and makeup. I’ve been feeling pretty lethargic recently (I caught Covid two weeks ago and am just about feeling normal) so it’s nice to make an effort.

However, I have a bad headache that doesn’t budge even after I drink plenty of water, so I have to take some ibuprofen in the middle of the day. 

Day 4

I go for an extended walk with my dog and family in the afternoon (about 3.5km) before heading to my Grandma’s house at about 6pm to give her cake and presents for her birthday.

On the way home we grab a takeaway (I have a chicken burger and chips), and I finish that before sitting down on the sofa to watch some TV and scroll on my phone. I have some dark chocolate for dessert around 9:30pm before watching some more TV with my family – I stay there until 11:10pm.

I then head up to bed, complete my skincare routine (with my YouTube video) before getting into bed and scrolling for a bit. I end up watching YouTube and don’t fall asleep until gone 1am.

It’s raining outside and I’m feeling lazy, so when I wake up at 9:30am I curl back over and don’t wake up until 11am. I scroll on social media for a bit before getting up and having Nutella on toast, a cup of tea and a glass of water for breakfast.

Nutella on toast
"I scroll on social media for a bit before getting up and having Nutella on toast, a cup of tea and a glass of water for breakfast."

Day 5

I go on another extended dog walk today (3.5km) in the pouring rain, which I get back from about 4:30pm. The fresh air has got me motivated to exercise but it’s too dark to go for a run, so I do some workout videos quickly before having a bath with a bath bomb and a candle.

I end up reading a bit before dinner at 6pm, which is bacon and leek mac and cheese with tenderstem broccoli and green beans. I also have a glass of water. I then spend some time looking over some recipes I want to make in the next couple of months (I’m trying to be more experimental with my cooking).

I then sit down in the lounge and play on my Nintendo Switch for a bit before heading up to bed about 10:30pm, because I have work tomorrow. I switch off my phone at midnight and sleep until my alarm goes off at 7:30am. I snooze the alarm until 8:30am before I get up and dive straight into work.

I eat Nutella on toast and some raspberries and blueberries for breakfast alongside a glass of water and a cup of tea. 

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “I really want to help you as you suffer from OCD and anxiety and take antidepressants to manage your condition, but I wonder if you will follow my advice. Having worked in a psychiatric clinic for a decade I know that making some small but profound changes to your lifestyle could really make a difference. 

“There’s far too much scrolling going on, particularly before bedtime. Ideally, you would have an electronic sundown an hour or so before you get into bed and you need to get to bed earlier at least 4 nights a week – this means being in bed around 9.30 to 10pm maybe reading a book or relaxing in a tech-free way for 30 minutes or so before lights out.”

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

Dr Nerina continues: “Also, you really need to be consistently having a better breakfast and sooner. This could really help with the mental health symptoms you’re getting. Can you swap the Nutella for almond butter on toast for a protein-rich breakfast? This would also help to break the fatigue cycle you seem to be in as you’re struggling to get out of bed in the mornings. I hope you follow my advice – it really does work!”

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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 your name, age and any sleep problems you’re dealing with, using ‘SLEEP DIARIES’ as the subject. We look forward to hearing from you.

Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan

Other images: Getty

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

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