Stylist's Sleep Diaries: why do I keep waking up at 2am?

“Why am I so exhausted all the time?” – 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 filing these diaries to sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan for analysis.  

In this week’s Sleep Diaries, a 31-year-old teacher explains that they’ve found themselves stuck in a fatigue cycle. 

A little about me:

  • Age: 31
  • Occupation: Teacher
  • Number of hours sleep I get each night: 6
  • Number of hours sleep I wish I got each night: 8
  • How much water I drink on average per day: 1.5 litres
  • How much exercise I do on average per week: Very little, as my job is so physically active.

Day 1

My alarm goes off at 5am. Then it’s snoozed until 5:09am, and then again until 5:18am, and then I finally get out of bed at 5:27am. I’m in the shower by 5:45am, and am heading out to catch the train at 6:20am. 

I feel very groggy today, which is probably a combination of a shorter-than-usual sleep (yesterday was a Sunday, so I went to bed later than usual) and the Monday morning blues. I have breakfast on arrival at work at 7:30am (I bring cereal in tupperware with me and work provides milk and coffee), and eat it while getting the classroom ready/responding to emails/reading any work updates along with a black coffee. 

The school provides us with a hot lunch: today it’s chicken, potatoes and various cooked and raw veg. It’s enough to keep me going until I finish work at 4:45pm.

I’m very snoozy on the train home (which is normal), but manage to stay awake so I don’t miss my stop. I walk in the front door at 6pm, cook myself a vegetarian pie with potato wedges and green veg, then call my parents for weekly chat.

The day ends with a peppermint tea and a pint of water, which I sip while watching TV and catching up with my boyfriend. By 9pm, I’m in bed with a book, and ready to turn the light off an hour later. It takes me less than 30 minutes to fall asleep.

bed
Reading books in bed – the ultimate past-time?

Day 2

My alarm goes off at 5am, and I hit snooze several times before eventually getting up at 5:30am. It’s the same morning routine as the day before (shower at 5:45am, leave at 6:20am, arrive at work 7:30am), except I’m somehow even groggier this time around. 

Again, I have cereal and black coffee once I get to work. And, around lunchtime, I wind up having a second black coffee because I’m feeling so tired. 

Unsurprisingly, I develop a headache during the afternoon (probably due to dehydration) so finish work at 4:45pm with a very painful head and feeling nauseous as a result. When I get home, I take a painkiller and have a lie down before my virtual Spanish lesson begins at 6:30pm. 

I make sure to drink two pints of water during the two-hour class, and feel much better (albeit very drained) once it finishes. I tuck into a plate of gnocchi and veg in a tomato sauce, watching a bit of TV at the same time, before heading to bed at 9:30pm. Again, I’m asleep within 30 minutes. 

Day 3

When my alarm goes off today at 5am, I hit snooze a few times (it’s a habit) before getting up. I’m feeling very drained from my headache the day before. 

It’s the same morning routine again, only this time I switch out the coffee and drink water instead. As such, I manage to drink 1 litre of water throughout the working day which is a lot more than usual. 

As my hydration levels rise, so too does my sense of wellbeing. So, when I return home at 6pm, I make sure to drink two more pints of water (one during my prawn stir fry dinner, and one after). 

I watch TV until 9:30pm, whilst sipping a cup of peppermint tea. Again, I’m in bed at 10pm and asleep within 30 minutes. 

Day 4

I wake up at 5am feeling very refreshed and awake, especially in comparison to the last couple of days. So I follow my normal morning routine and once again skip the coffee: somewhat unbelievably, I haven’t had one since Tuesday lunchtime!

I feel generally refreshed and more energised throughout the day, making sure to sip water and eat a hot lunch as normal.

Again, I leave work at 4:30pm to get back in time for my evening Spanish lesson, which I partake in whilst drinking a cup of tea and pint of water.

Afterwards, it’s a dinner of fish cakes, potato wedges and veg (and even more water), followed by some TV and yet another cup of peppermint tea. I’m in bed by 10pm as usual, but it takes me much longer to get to sleep. 

Drinking a cup of peppermint tea before bed can help you sleep better, especially if you have and upset stomach.
Drinking a cup of peppermint tea before bed can help you sleep better, especially if you have and upset stomach.

An hour later, I’m still wide awake and staring at the ceiling. What gives?

Day 5

I wake up at 5:30am and go through my normal morning routine. My boyfriend is also awake and very energised, despite having been out the previous night (he usually doesn’t get up until 8am as he is working from home at the moment). 

I arrive at school and tuck into my normal breakfast, treating myself to a morning black coffee. I promise myself it will be the only one of the day, though!

It’s a hot lunch as usual, and I also make sure to drink water throughout the day. As it’s Friday, I finish work at 4:15pm and go shopping for tomorrow’s dinner. 

Tonight, I have a night-in alone as my boyfriend is out so I have a pizza and dirty fries (hey, it’s the weekend!) and drink a bottle of wine during two films. I’m in bed at 10:30pm, feeling very tired (and drunk). I don’t set an alarm, and wake up naturally on Saturday at 10:15am feeling very refreshed. 

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: 

“Teaching is extremely demanding and, as such, every trick in the book is needed. I really do think you would feel a great deal less exhausted, and even find some energy to exercise, if you were to eat breakfast sooner to break the fatigue cycle in the morning. 

“This is one of the non-negotiables in my sleep programme, so try to eat something small within 30 minutess of rising – even if it’s just a small piece of toast and nut butter or a handful of nuts and dried fruit, and then have your more substantial breakfast when you get to work. I promise that you will start to feel your energy lifting in no time.”

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

Dr Nerina continues: “While your caffeine intake isn’t horrendous, it will affect your sleep more because you’re tired, so you are right to keep an eye on it. And yes, you need to keep the hydration levels up. 

“While teachers admittedly do move a lot with their job, more formal exercise to challenge your strength, stamina, and suppleness will also be of benefit in the long term.”

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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Dr Nerina Ramlakhan is a renowned physiologist and sleep expert and regularly hosts sleep programmes and workshops. She is the bestselling author of several books about sleep, including The Little Book of Sleep: The Art of Natural Sleep (Gaia, 2018).

Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan

Stock images: Getty/Tracey Hocking/Unsplash

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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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