“How can I build a better bedtime routine?” 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 – and presenting these diaries to sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan for analysis.  

In this week’s extra-special World Sleep Day edition of Sleep Diaries, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan analyses her own bedtime routine – with intriguing results.

A little about me:

Age: 56

Occupation: sleep and wellness expert

Number of hours sleep you get each night: at least 8 most nights, sometimes more

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: 8-9

Do you have any sleep conditions: no, but I used to. As a baby and up until my mid 30s I suffered from extreme insomnia, nightmares, night terrors and sleep walking

How much water you drink on average per day: 2-3 litres per day, including hot water and lemon, herbal teas

How much exercise I do on average per week: at least 2 hours walking/running a day, Pilates twice a week, hula hooping, dancing, and wild swimming as and when I can (at least twice a week)

A note from Dr Nerina: “During my three-day diary, I underwent a Firstbeat assessment. This involved wearing two electrodes, which I changed every day, which measured my heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is a physiological measure which gives information about your stress levels, fitness, recovery during the day and quality of sleep at night.”

Day 1

I wake at 6am naturally, and notice my mind racing with a few worries and thoughts of what I need to do in my day. I take three deep breaths into my belly before opening my eyes. Then, I spend a few minutes tickling the belly of my new rescue pup Mira (from Cyprus) who sleeps in her cocoon beside my bed. 

Once this is done, I jump out of bed, light a candle and give thanks for the sleep I’ve had and whatever lies ahead in my day. Then I feed the cat, who’s needing extra TLC these days because of Mira. 

Next, I make a mug of hot water/lemon with pinch of sea salt, which I take back to bed with me. I do 23 minutes of transcendental meditation (TM) during which I notice the noise in my head even more. When I get out of bed, the puppy is raring to go for her walk.

I switch my phone on which has been switched off and charging downstairs to see what’s been happening while I’ve been offline. Then, before we head out the door for a 75-minute run/walk along the river, I have a huge slice of granary toast with almond butter and honey washed down with a mug of my fave Darjeeling tea.

When I get back, I feed the pup and make myself a huge green smoothie with vegetables and all sorts of health supplements (I’m going through my menopause so I’m throwing everything at it!). Then I hop into a warm shower, which I run completely cold and stand in for two minutes while I breathe deeply and chant my mantra for a healthy and happy day. 

I’m feeling invigorated and have a second breakfast (a two-egg omelette with cheese/tomato/spinach). It’s now time to tackle my inbox and to-do list, which includes working on my fourth book, dealing with PR requests and requests for webinars: these have increased during the pandemic as people aren’t sleeping well and stress levels are high.

I don’t really have much lunch as I’m still full from morning’s breakfasts, so I snack on nuts and fruit while working. I stop around 2pm to roll around on floor with Mira, and to do a bit of foam rolling for my dodgy left knee. After this, I lie with my head on the roller and semi doze for 15 minutes.

Then it’s time for my second cup of tea and a piece of toast before I gather myself up to tackle decluttering my wardrobe for an hour, before taking the dog for her second walk/run at 5pm.

When I get back home, I shower, have a dinner of salmon and steamed veg, and drink lots of herbal teas and water (mainly warm). 

It’s a chilled evening with Mira and Rani watching Modern Love on BBC iPlayer. I nibble a couple of Lindt chocolate balls (salted caramel, if you’re wondering) while watching. I keep wanting to look at phone as I’m missing my daughter who’s moved away to live with her dad and do her A-levels at another school, but I turn my phone off and leave it to charge downstairs in lounge. 

I’m in bed at 9pm reading Roar by Cecilia Ahern. The lights are out by around 9.30pm, but I’m woken twice during night by Mira barking madly as next door’s cat has come in through my bathroom window. A few hours later my mother (84 years old and struggling with Alzheimer’s) has phoned on the landline for a chat. I think it’s around 2 or 3am but I don’t look at the time. I try not to be annoyed with her and go back to bed. Now I’m worrying about my daughter and my mum, so I use breathing techniques to get back to sleep.

Day 2

I wake naturally at 6am feeling a bit tired and sad. Again, I light a candle, feed the cat and get into bed to journal for a bit. I then do four rounds of Wim Hof breathwork to ease the worry about my mum and daughter. 

I emerge from my bedroom around 7am feeling much more optimistic. I tuck into toast and tea, and then go for a crazy run in the woods with Mira. She makes me so happy with her squirrel chasing antics and we even manage to climb a tree together. I make sure to smile and talk to a few other dog owners while out, and Mira plays with her fave canine buddies – Tito, Willow, Milo and Poppy. 

I get home feeling happy and looking forward to the day ahead which I know is going to be busy.

When I get home, I drink a green smoothie and then look at my inbox. After an hour or so, I have brunch which is some of last night’s dinner. I take a break at midday to hula hoop for 10 minutes and stretch. I type standing up. 

I take a warm cold/shower to help me get ready for a presentation to a law firm; it’s on Zoom with over 300 people attending. I’m talking about stress and resilience. I sit down 30 minute before my talk starts, light a candle, do some deep relaxing breathing to get in the zone. I love presenting – I enjoy the buzz. Afterwards, though, I’m tired, so I stand outside on my decking with bare feet and breathe in the cold air. I feel happy and satisfied to have had the opportunity to help so many people today.

Before popping to the supermarket, I make myself a cup of tea and snack on a homemade oaty biscuitt. I enjoy chatting to Hazel and Bubbaca who work at my local Sainsburys, and the social interaction takes away the edge of loneliness and missing my daughter.

Back home I finish some more emails and calls and then head out the door for another walk with Mira, my best friend Carolyn and her dog Truffle.

Back home, I chat to my mum while making my evening meal. It makes me a little sad that I don’t know when I can next visit her and that our conversations are often about the same things. Some times we sing together over the phone and that makes her happy. She loves Every Time You Go Away by Paul Young. Dinner this evening is dhal, rice and steamed veg. I have a Haagen Daaz fruit pot ice cream while watching another episode of Modern Love. I phone my friend Jackie and we have a good laugh about not much in particular, and there’s time for a nice chat with my daughter, which cheers me up, too.

I’m in bed reading by 9.30pm even though I fancied another episode of Modern Love. I sleep well mostly, although I wake a few times with my mind going but each time managed to put myself back to sleep using my own meditation techniques.

Day 3 

I wake at 6.45am feeling rested and happy. I spend an hour in bed meditating and journaling and doing a bit of writing for my fourth book. Then it’s time for an excruciating Pilates class (online of course) at 8.30am while Mira looked on impatiently. Tea and toast and then we’re finally out of the door for a run/walk. When I’m back, I tuck into a bowl of muesli with coconut yoghurt.

I’m giving another presentation today over lunchtime to 150 employees from an insurance company, but my camera keeps freezing, which isn’t great. I have to work on staying grounded and breathing deeply. In the end, the session goes well and we all end up laughing when Mira barks furiously and I get an Amazon delivery mid-presentation. 

I’m tired after the presentation, so I sit with cup of tea and biscuit watching a cheeky episode of Modern Love. When it finishes, I spend three hours clearing emails and doing calls with clients. By this time I’m screened out and head out for a walk with Mira. We don’t go far and end up sitting by river for a while – it’s cold but sunny and I chat (from a distance, of course) to a few people I know who are also out walking. It’s so nice to have the social interaction.

Firstbeat analysis of Dr Nerina's sleep routine
Dr Nerina was pleasantly surprised by the results of her sleep experiment with Firstbeat.

I’m feeling preoccupied with the amount of work I still haven’t done so I sit and write a list and get clear in my head exactly what needs to be done. I spend 30 minutes or so doing the more urgent stuff and I do a 20 minute body groove dance class which gets my energy levels and spirits up. I love Misty Tripoli! 

I phone mum for a quick chat and to check what she’s having for lunch and dinner. She’s more with it today and this makes me feel happy and relieved. Simple dinner of chunky homemade chicken soup and bread then settle down with herbal tea and 2 Lindt chocolate balls to watch final episode of Modern Love

I’m feeling happy as taking the day off tomorrow and my daughter’s coming to stay the weekend. I’m in bed by 9.45 to read. When I turn the light off, I have a smile on my face – it’s been a good day.

What does it all mean? A sleep expert offers her thoughts

Looking back over her own data and diary entries, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “I was pleased – and incredibly reassured – to see the results of my assessment which showed that, despite to going through some significant life stresses, working hard and being woken up at night by mum and dog the quality of my sleep and recovery is exemplary! In fact, I score almost as high as an elite athlete! 

“I’m really relieved and it shows that all of the things I do to help me sleep really do work. I had terrible insomnia for the first thirty years of my life and I’m not going back there again.” 

    Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
    Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

    Dr Nerina continues: “Life can be tough – this last year has been so challenging for me personally – but if we make the right choices we can still thrive and continue to enjoy the small joyful pleasures. We all deserve that. When I was (much) younger, I made very unhelpful choices – breakfast was usually coffee and a ciggie. I choose differently now and can not only personally reap the benefits but help so many others too. I want to come out of the pandemic feeling healthy, well and looking forward to new adventures and I’m sure you do too.

    “You’ll notice that I have many healthy habits (including my evening Lindt ball treats) but I also practice my own 5 Non- Negotiable Sleep Rules for good sleep – early breakfast if I’m anxious, not too much caffeine, good hydration, early to bed, and healthy tech boundaries. I never have my phone in the bedroom at night.” 

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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

      Graph provided by Firstbeat

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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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