Sleep

“What bedtime routine should I follow when I’m not working?” – a sleep expert answers your questions

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 39-year-old woman admits that she’s finding it tricky to keep to a good sleep routine during her career break.

A little about me:

  • Age: 39
  • Occupation: Career break
  • Number of hours sleep I get each night: 5-7
  • Number of hours sleep I wish I got each night: 6-8
  • Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems: No
  • How much water I drink on average per day: I usually drink around 2-3 litres daily
  • How much exercise I do on average per week: 6-10 hours

Day 1

Today, I have my dinner (a baked sweet potato with cottage cheese, followed by some buttermilk) at 5pm. Afterwards, I take my two dogs for a walk around the park. The youngest has a habit of rolling in the smelliest delights the park has to offer, and tonight is no exception. 

I get the dogs home and into the bath, wash away the gross stuff, and set to drying them. By the time I’m finished, it’s about 7pm, so I take a shower and wash my hair.

Once this is done, I put on my pyjamas and cleanse and moisturise my face. I have a video call scheduled with my good friend who lives abroad, so I prepare a fresh ginger tea to drink while catching up. After two hours, we say goodnight, and I feel relaxed and content. 

It’s 10pm, so I let the dogs out into the garden for their last pee break of the night, and wait impatiently for them to come back inside. Finally, they trot back indoors, and I grab some water to take to bed with me and get in just before 10:30pm.

The TV is on but I’m not paying attention, I read for about 40 minutes before I feel my eyes getting heavy, I think I fall asleep just before 11:30pm. I wake once during the night but I’m not sure what time it is as my phone is switched off. Honestly, though, it doesn’t take me long to fall back asleep into a series of very fragmented dreams.

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Day 2

I wake in the morning at 5:15am to the sound of my partner’s alarm. I feel groggy, but coffee soon sorts that out, so I pour myself a cup around 6am when I let the dogs out. I have breakfast an hour later.

Later, my partner and I go grocery shopping. To avoid a trolley full of impulsive, random foodstuffs, we have dinner (a bowl of cauliflower soup) before we go, which we finish quickly. So quickly, actually, that we’re in the car by 7:30pm and home an hour later. 

I snack on cashew nuts while unpacking the shopping, then jump in the shower around 9pm, change into my pyjamas and cleanse and moisturise. I make ginger tea while waiting for the dogs to finish up outside and then head upstairs to bed. 

It’s about 9:30pm; the TV is on but serves as background noise only. By now I’ve finished my tea and I’m using my partner’s laptop to proofread some of his work documents: this takes me about an hour. 

At about 10:30pm, I reply to a few personal messages and spend some time browsing stuff online. I turn my phone off around 11:15pm and go to the bathroom. I’m not feeling very sleepy so I read until my eyes feel heavy. 

Eventually, I drift off, but wake in the night thanks to my dog jumping clumsily into the bed. I check my partner’s phone and see it’s 2:53am. Wide awake, and struggling to get back to sleep, I read again for about an hour before turning off my Kindle. 

Sleep Diaries: I prepare a fresh ginger tea to drink
Sleep Diaries: I prepare a fresh ginger tea to drink

Day 3

I wake to the sound of my partner’s alarm at 5:15am, but I’m feeling very sleepy so I doze until 7:45. As always, I take myself downstairs and have a coffee: breakfast comes around an hour later.

Come 5pm, I’m on my third coffee of the day, and hoping it provides the energy I need to work out as I have been struggling with this recently. Thankfully, the caffeine hit seems to do the trick and I manage a 40 minute HIIT workout. 

I’m exhausted afterwards, so I decide to have a bath. I soak for about an hour, listening to a podcast, and soon find myself feeling calm and relaxed. When I get out, I stick to my routine: on go my pyjamas, and I cleanse and moisturise my face. 

We have dinner just after 7pm: tonight, it’s a simple feta and spinach omelette. Once we’re done, I clean the kitchen and decide to get into bed, even though it’s only around 8pm. My partner and I watch a film together, but I suddenly find myself feeling very sleepy and have no idea how it ends. My dreams are pretty vivid again, though… 

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Day 4

I wake up at 5:15am to the sound of the alarm, and I’m feeling pretty well-rested. I get out of bed straight away and make coffee. As I have a self-defence lesson at 7:30am, I decide to wait and eat breakfast after.

I start cooking dinner (a vegetarian moussaka) around 6pm, and listen to a podcast and drink buttermilk as I do so. It takes about an hour before I get the moussaka in the oven, so I decide to take the dogs to the park while it’s cooking. 

It’s been raining most of the day, so the dogs are filthy by the time I get home. I quickly hose them down in the bath and towel dry them and, before I know it, it’s about 7:45pm and the moussaka is almost ready.

I eat just after 8pm and get the kitchen in order once dinner is over. I have a long shower and am in bed by 9pm, catching up on some articles I bookmarked earlier in the week. Again, I keep the TV on in the background. 

I turn my phone off around midnight and fall asleep not long after. I wake up during the night to use the bathroom at around 3am, but I fall back asleep pretty quickly,

Make your bedroom a phone-free zone.
Sleep Diaries: I check my partner’s phone and see it’s 2:53am.

Day 5

I wake to the sound of the alarm at 5:15am and find myself feeling a little groggy. I fight the urge to go back to sleep, and instead slip downstairs to make coffee.

I’m visiting family for an evening of drinks and snacks, so I don’t have to prep anything for dinner. I arrive at their house just before 7pm, snacks in tow. We’ve all brought food, though, which means there’s lots of it, and I spend the evening chatting and grazing on cheese, bread, dumplings and nachos. 

I drink just one beer and some tonic water, but by 10pm I still feel quite tired and very full. It’s enough to send me home.

Back at mine, I prepare lemon balm tea and get ready for bed. I watch junk TV for an hour but no longer feel tired. I turn off the TV around 11:30pm and read until I fall asleep. I wake up at 7am, feeling tired and make a strong coffee.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You seem to have a well-balanced life, with a lot to do with your dogs. 

“However, while you have a number of good lifestyle practices, such as exercising and drinking lots of water, you probably need to cut down on the caffeine.”

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina adds: “More importantly, though, you need to get the TV and laptop out of the bedroom please! I’m not surprised you’re having such vivid dreams – there’s too much info going into your brain before you turn the light out, and this will make your sleep less restorative.

“As you’re on a career break, it’s a good time to get yourself into these habits now. You want to be in a good routine before you take anything else on in your life.”

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

Images: Getty

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