“Do you have any sleep advice for shift workers?” 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 31-year-old pharmacy medicine management technician reveals how she’s perfected her sleep routine (despite working shifts).

A little about me:

Age: 31

Occupation: pharmacy medicine management technician

Number of hours sleep you get each night: I’m averaging eight hours of kip on a good night

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: eight to nine hours straight

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems: none

Do you measure your sleep in some way (e.g. using your phone or wearable): yes, I use the iPhone Health app

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

How much exercise I do on average per week: I exercise once or twice a week due to the fact that I have high metabolism. If I was on holiday though I would be doing this religiously every day!

My quest for getting the perfect night’s sleep has always been something of an arduous journey. I have tried every trick and trade known to mankind in the book, and don’t get me started with sleeping masks or drinking cold water to cool me down – it doesn’t work for me. But wearing my socks in bed and knowing that my feet are kept warm and comfy helps. Seriously; my socks, lots of hot water, and following an eight-step guide means I always sleep like a baby. I kid you not.

Day 1

I am not due to start my shift until 11:30am, yet I still wake up at 7am as it takes almost two hours to get to work. For me, nothing beats listening to a podcast as I’m getting ready, and one that I have fallen in love with is The Book Of Man, which is hosted by Jason Fox (Foxy to his mates). Podcasts like these are important to me, as I am an upcoming cadet who loves to learn, and nothing says “survival mode” like listening to Foxy and his guests. 

At 8am I have two fried eggs, tomatoes, baked beans and four slices of buttered brown bread with a hot chocolate. After breakfast, I clear the dishes and pack my pre-prepared lunch (a mixture of almonds, cashews, pecans and Brazilian nuts) into my bag. And, on my way to work, I sip a litre of water to quench my thirst. 

Today’s shift sees a mixed bag of people come in for advice on constipation, dry skin, anxiety and severe iron deficiency. The issues may not be acute, but the patients are worried and need to chat. As such, I finally finish work at 8:30pm – half an hour later than usual. This is a common scenario, not just for me but for lots of my colleagues. 

As I drive home, I pass by a McDonald’s… and I’m tempted! I get home at 10:30pm, and quickly have a shower. Tiredness has well and truly got the better of me, and I am a deep sleeper, so I’m out like a light the moment my head hits the pillow.

Shot of a young woman sleeping with a mask on in bed
Sleep Diaries: I always wear an eye mask to bed, without fail.

Day 2

I am dragged awake by the sound of my alarm clock at 5:30am. As yesterday was so intense, I hit the snooze button and get an extra 30 minutes of sleep. 

At 6am, I make my bed and head straight into the kitchen, where I make myself a cup of hot squeezed lemon water, as well as a spinach omelette seasoned with salt and black pepper. Once I’ve eaten, I leave the house for my daily morning walk; it’s a refreshing one, and really helps me clear my thoughts.

It’s another busy day at work, and I jump in the shower just as soon as I get home at 6:15pm. For dinner, I have rice with chicken, mushrooms, mixed vegetables and coleslaw. Then, I prep mentally for the next day and lay out my uniform (I learned the hard way that I am all over the place if I don’t do this). 

By 7:45pm, my phone alerts me that it is time to go to bed. Again, I fall asleep quickly.

Day 3

I wake up long before dawn to the dreaded alarm sounds from my phone, and it feels like a total slap in the face as I am expected to be at work for 8am.

I’m out the door by 6:15am, and eat a ham sandwich stuffed with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and mayonnaise on my way to work. 

Oatmeal porridge with berries and honey on wooden table.
Sleep Diaries: My usual breakfast is a bowl of porridge and berries.

I am feeling completely shattered, so I take an hour’s nap on the train to work. It’s another long day, and I clock off work at 4:30pm, which means I make it home just in time for dinner (a jacket potato with beans and coleslaw, followed by a 1L bottle of hot squeezed lemon water) at 6:30pm.

After I’ve eaten, I go into the living room and sit down with my family to watch TV (mostly the news and other current affairs-based shows). By 8pm, though, I am in bed – and just moments before my phone even reminds me, too.

Day 4

I sit down to breakfast by 6:45am today, which means I have a good bowl of oats followed by frozen blueberries mixed with natural Greek yoghurt (as well as a bottle of hot water and vitamin C effervescent tablets).

Next, I spend some time meditating, in an attempt to help me get into a positive mindset. It works; having some quiet time keeps me in a good headspace.

The sheer variety of work today keeps me interested until I leave the building at 5:35pm, with just enough time to pick up the evening newspaper at the station before it runs out. Honestly, I do not envy anyone coming to work tomorrow, as I cannot wait for a lie-in!

When I arrive at home it’s nearly 6:45pm, so I go to my room to drop off my bag before having a shower. At 7pm I have fish and chips for dinner, which I wash down with a bottle of water. I also spend some time catching up with my friends online before bed.

Day 5

It’s finally Friday and, despite being on annual leave, I wake up naturally around 5:30am and listen to music for two hours. I feel so refreshed.

When I’m ready, I make my bed, brush my teeth and head downstairs to prepare my brunch; cereal with almond milk and a banana. Then, it’s back to bed, where I spend much of the day catching up on bits and bobs and watching the shows I missed in the week.

When the sun starts setting around 6pm, I go for a jog not far from where I live. And, as laughter is the best medicine for me, I end up watching Wild ‘N’ Out YouTube funny videos once I get home. After a glass of orange juice and watching nothing on TV, I climb into bed, ready to go to sleep and wake up to… well, basically to the same routine all over again tomorrow.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “I really have nothing to advise, because, whatever you’re doing, it seems to work for you!

“Usually working shifts can take a toll on a person’s sleep patterns and energy levels. However, your self-discipline and habits seem to stand you in good stead – by your own admission, you ‘sleep like a baby!’”

    Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
    Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

    Dr Nerina finishes: “Clearly, you have put a great deal of effort and trial and error into working out exactly what you need to do in order to get the deep sleep you need. So, if it ain’t broke I won’t try to fix it.

    “Keep up the good 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 ‘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

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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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