Sleep Diaries cover

“Is it OK to nap when you’re working shifts?” 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 36-year-old train crew member and business owner asks how she can take care of her health while working shifts.

A little about me:

Age: 36

Occupation: train crew and business owner

Number of hours’ sleep you get each night: 6-8 hours

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

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems (insomnia/sleep apnea): no

How much water you drink on average per day: 2-3 litres

How much caffeine do you drink on average per day: 2-3 cups of tea

How much exercise you do on average per week: I walk my dog for one hour a day, and my job is pretty active.

Day 1

I was in work until 1am this morning. It was quite busy, but I did manage to have a hot chocolate at around 11pm.

I return home about 1:30am and head straight to bed, but my husband is snoring so I don’t get to sleep until around 3am. I feel agitated about not being able to sleep.

My alarm wakes me up at 7:15am in time to get the children ready for school. I feel very groggy and skip breakfast because I feel too tired to eat. I start the day feeling very slow and heavy.

A hot chocolate in a paper cup
“I was in work until 1am this morning. It was quite busy, but I did manage to have a hot chocolate at around 11pm.”

Day 2

I had planned to have a nap this afternoon, but one of my children came home from school ill so that plan was ruined.

My energy levels are very low today, and I’m feeling very irritable and hungry. I’ve been craving carbs all day too so end up not eating very healthy – all I have are jacket potatoes and pizza.

I arrive back home from taking my youngest child to and from gymnastics about 7:30pm, before having some toast and watching TV until around 10pm.

I then decide to head up to bed, where I set my alarm for 7:15am the next morning. 

Day 3 

My alarm woke me up. I had a good night’s sleep but I still feel tired, so I grab a big glass of water as soon as I’m up.

I spend the day running the errands I didn’t get around to on Monday, and it’s 8pm by the time I sit down to eat dinner – tonight we’re having vegetable pasta.

Afterwards, I watch some TV and catch up on some business admin. I had planned to go to bed by 10pm but I get carried away replying to emails until 11:15pm.

Once I’m done I head straight up to bed, where I find my husband snoring. I don’t get to sleep until about 00:30am.

Woman sat on the sofa on her laptop
“I had planned to go to bed by 10pm but I get carried away replying to emails until 11:15pm.”

Day 4

After falling asleep later than I’d hoped, the cat wakes me up at 4:15am asking for food! I sort that out and head back to sleep, before I’m woken by my alarm at 7:15am.

Work drags on for ages today because there is lots of disruption, so I only have time to grab a micro meal before my shift ends at 00:30am.

I arrive home at 00:45am and head straight to bed, but my husband is snoring again. I manage to fall asleep around 1:20am, and sleep until my alarm goes off at 7:15am.

Day 5

I get up when my alarm goes off but I still feel pretty tired. I also feel like I’m coming down with a cold, and spend all day snacking to try and boost my energy levels.

I have to head to work after the school run, and don’t get home until 00:45am. I’m in bed by 1:00am but really struggle to switch off, which leads to a lot of tossing and turning.

My husband is also snoring again so that keeps me awake too. I finally get to sleep at 1:45am, and sleep through until my alarm goes off at 7:30am (a lie in!).

I actually wake up feeling awake and refreshed, but I don’t think that feeling will last long.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You work shifts so you need every trick in the book. Working shifts can take its toll on your health past the age of around 35 to 40 years depending on your genetics and level of health, so self-care is essential.

Nutrition is key and your diet seems to be lacking and very carb-rich. Ideally, you need to eat meals little and often with a focus on balance so there is protein, fat and carbohydrate included. This means preparing in advance and taking healthy snacks to your shifts – nuts, seeds and fruit and sandwiches with protein-based fillings eg turkey, chicken, ham or tuna. You should also avoid going for long stretches of time and not eating. 

“Ideally, you would have a small snack – maybe a small bowl of cereal or Greek yoghurt – before you come off your shift as this could help you to sleep for longer and more deeply. When you wake, you should also eat a small breakfast as this will help to kick start your energy and metabolism.”

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

Dr Nerina continues: “Naps are essential – a power nap of up to 20 minutes at some point between 2pm and 4pm or, even better, a replacement nap of up to 40 minutes (during the same time period) would be ideal. The latter will really help to top up your energy levels and boost your immune system so that you don’t get run down.

“Another small tweak that could make a big difference is to stop checking the time during the night. Do you know it’s impossible to know, with any accuracy, exactly what time you fall asleep (unless you’re having a sleep study in a laboratory and wearing at least 60 electrodes on your head)? Oh, and a daily good multivitamin tablet could be a good insurance policy for you.”

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If you would like to take part in Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, please email 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/Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

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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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