Sleep Diaries: “How can I keep my energy levels up with a new baby?”

“How do our sleep needs change in our 20s and 30s?” 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 22-year-old writer questions whether she should be working to improve her sleep hygiene right now.

A LITTLE ABOUT ME:

Age: 22

Occupation: writer

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 8 hours

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

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems: no

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: no

How much water you drink on average per day: 4 litres

How much exercise I do on average per week: 6 hours a week

It’s probably worth mentioning that I have severe digestive issues which I developed after following a vegan diet for a few years. I am very sensitive to fibre so I have to track what I eat every day and limit my fibre intake (I try to keep below the 50% mark of what is recommended for me). If I eat too much fibre, it can make me really sick. I also have to stick to eating vegetables which I know aren’t triggers for me, hence why I eat so many avocados. 

I’m sure this affects my energy levels but I’m not sure there is much I can do about it. It also means that I can’t drink caffeine at all, apart from the occasional cup of tea, and I also have to drink a lot of water each day to help keep things moving. And it makes me pretty sensitive to alcohol, but I have managed to build my tolerance up through painful amounts of trial and error.

DAY 1

I wake up at 7am so I can start work a bit early. I have my usual granola and yoghurt for breakfast and then avocado and feta on toast at around 2:30pm. I feel really tired after this but decide not to nap during my lunch break and I feel a little more lively after an hour or so. I head to the gym at 6:30pm and it’s a very intense cardio session – not ideal in the heat, but I feel energised afterwards. 

I get home at around 8pm, shower, and then sit down to eat roasted salmon, homemade wedges and peas for tea with some garlic mayo at around 9pm. I know it’s not great to eat at this time but it’s difficult to eat earlier when I’m going to the gym after work (plus I’ve started eating in line with Love Island… not a great excuse though). 

I get into bed for about 10:30pm then write in my diary, read a little and fall asleep around 11:15pm.

Business woman working at office with documents on his desk, Business woman holding pens and papers making notes in documents on the table, Hands of financial manager taking notes - stock photo
Sleep Diaries: I spend some time writing in my diary before bed.

DAY 2

My alarm goes off at 7am but I snooze until about 7:30am and then get up and tidy the flat before work starts. Granola and yoghurt for breakfast again and then I walk to the doctor at about 11:20am for a pill check. I have some points on a Subway card that they gave out for free when the football was on so I pick up a free sub for lunch at around 12pm (tuna mayo and salad – don’t judge) and then head into the office, picking up a sugar-free 7up and a berry muffin on the way. 

I eat the muffin and drink the fizzy drink to keep me going throughout the afternoon, then pick up a Pret cheese toastie at about 6:30pm on the way to meet my friend for a drink. I have a few Aperol Spritzes and some chips, then we go to the South Bank for the rest of the evening, where I have a limoncello spritz and a couple of cigarettes. 

My friend is visiting from Manchester and is staying with me for the night so we head back to my flat and have a seltzer each and some pizza breadsticks (plus two big glasses of water). I hate sharing a bed with other people but I sleep surprisingly well between 1-10am.

DAY 3

We wake up (surprisingly, without a hangover), shower and have some crunchy nut clusters with almond milk and an orange juice. After we’ve breakfasted, we head to Beckenham Place Park and swim in the lake for an hour, which is HEAVEN. 

I have a butternut squash, sage and ricotta pizza for lunch with a San Pelligrino in the sun followed by a Twister (very good food day) and then we take an Uber home. I fill up my water bottle twice while we’re there because it is super hot. I relax for an hour in the flat with the fan on full blast, before getting ready to go out on a date I organised a few hours earlier on Bumble. 

Bumble dating app logo on the App Store is seen displayed on a phone screen in this illustration photo taken in Poland on February 21, 2021. (Photo illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Sleep Diaries: I head out for a date I arranged on Bumble.

I have a wine seltzer while getting ready, then buy a feta and tomato pasta pot from M&S to eat on the bus so I don’t get ridiculously drunk. I then meet Bumble-guy, and we have a few tinnies each (while smoking), before deciding to get Chinese food at around 9:30pm. He eats more than me and we also share a bottle of wine. 

We go to another pub for a couple of pints before heading back to my flat. We fall asleep at around 2am but wake up again at 6am and I don’t really get back to sleep after that. 

DAY 4

I drink a ton of water but then throw it back up again (very grim) at around 9am. Then, when I finally get him to leave at about 10am, I throw up what I think is the entire contents of the tinnies I drank the night before. 

I tidy the flat and change my bedsheets then make a bagel to take back to bed and watch TV. I feel a lot better after being sick but I don’t really feel like sleeping so I order a veggie sausage roll from Greggs (plus a pack of Quavers and a Lucozade Sport – my only hangover cure). 

I then head to the lido, fully planning on sitting at the side of the pool, but I actually feel like swimming when I arrive so I do so for about 40 minutes. Afterwards, I read my book at the nearby park and end up spending the best part of an hour falling in and out of sleep. I walk home, shower and order a pizza and then resist the urge to sleep before it arrives. I’m feeling super happy as the date went well and I had a really relaxed day by myself which was much-needed. 

I eat the pizza at about 7pm – although it takes me about an hour to finish it – then fall asleep at 8:30pm. I wake up at 9:30pm and realise I’ve missed Love Island anyway so I may as well go to bed (this TV show really does dictate my life). 

I get up, brush my teeth, fill my water bottle up and drink the entire contents. I wake up a few times because it’s really hot but my window is wide open and I have the fan on so it’s pretty much bearable. I wake up naturally at about 6am but decide to go back to sleep until my alarm goes off at 7:30am.

DAY 5

I wake up feeling refreshed after 11 hours’ sleep and a really fun weekend. I shower at 8am and then get ready for work with my usual granola and yoghurt. 

I work in the garden in the morning, go for a walk on my lunch break at 12:30, and then have avocado and feta on a bagel for lunch. I somehow bypass the afternoon slump but it is 30 degrees outside, so I am resentful when it comes to hitting the gym after work. Still, I go to the 6pm class, which luckily features minimal cardio – yay!

I walk to Aldi on my way home to pick up some groceries, then head home for about 7:30pm. My flatmate does my nails and she’s not done until about 9pm, so I don’t end up eating until about 9:30pm (I have fish tacos with guacamole and rice). 

I get into bed for about 11pm but I end up writing in my diary until 11:45pm as I’m very excited to write about my weekend, so I’m not asleep until 12am. I wake up at 6:30am naturally and feel wide awake but I decide to go back to sleep until my alarm at 7:15am. I don’t feel quite as awake when I wake up for the second time but I think the extra 45 minutes might help me feel better for the rest of the day.

SO, WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? A SLEEP EXPERT OFFERS HER THOUGHTS

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says:  “What can I say, you’re living the life and why not? You’re only 22, after all! And, while it’s still recommended that you aim for seven or more hours of sleep per night, things are a lot more flexible in your 20s.

“In fact, to quote neurosurgeon Paul Kaloostian, your age group is more flexible in terms of physical needs. And, as the 20-something brain is ‘very plastic’, good sleep habits aren’t needed super-consistently.

“As such, your lifestyle habits probably balance themselves out – for now. There’s good and bad – you have great exercise routines and hydration levels, a nice social life, and that little bit of Love Island keeps you happy and set up for sleep.”

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

Dr Nerina continues: “Your diet baffles me, given what you’ve said about your digestive sensitivities, and without knowing more I can’t really get too involved. However, it does seem very gluten, alcohol and refined-carb rich, which isn’t great for the gut – and neither is smoking.

“At the moment, you don’t seem to be complaining about your sleep or energy levels, so if it ain’t broke and all that. However, I suspect you might need to come back to me in a few years’ time if your habits haven’t changed, as studies have shown that rapid eye movement (REM) decreases by 2% each decade until around the age of 60, as does the third stage of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which means that you will most likely feel the effects of a poor bedtime routine more keenly.”

Dr Nerina finishes: “Try, whenever you can, to stick to consistent sleep-wake schedules, make sure you’re getting enough exercise, drink lots of water and eat healthy sleep-boosting foods, too. All of these will help to promote good sleep, and get you into good stead before your 30s. I recommend checking out my five non-negotiable sleep rules, too, as it’s well worth getting into the habit of following these when you can.

“Good luck!”

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.

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Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan

Images: Getty/Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

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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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