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

“Can social smoking impact your sleep?” A sleep expert reveals all

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 journalist with IBS has a few restless nights.

A little about me:

Age: 29

Occupation: journalist

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 6-ish

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

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: no

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

How much exercise do you do on average per week: 10 hours of brisk walking

Day 1

After a weekend full of partying, drinking and little sleep, I decide to spend Sunday avoiding alcohol and going for a long walk. I get home from a six-hour walk at 7.30pm and then fling together a stir-fry. I eat it in front of the TV with a few glasses of water, then have a cup of mint tea and a couple of biscuits before heading to bed at 10pm.

After washing my face and brushing my teeth, I get into bed by 10.30pm and set my alarm for 6.45am. I try to read a chapter of my book before I go to sleep, but I’m so tired I only manage a couple of pages. I put on a bedtime audiobook (I can’t sleep without one) and fall asleep instantly.  

woman listening to music
Sleep Diaries: “I can't sleep without listening to a bedtime audiobook.”

I wake up abruptly in the middle of the night to my cat meowing at 3.15am. After letting him out, I struggle to get back to sleep, so I restart my bedtime podcast again. It takes me a while to nod off compounded by some IBS-related stomach cramps. I’m still awake at 4.30am, so I push my morning alarm back to 7am.

I wake up feeling very groggy and don’t make it out of bed until 7.30am. At 7.45am, I make a morning coffee and porridge. 

Day 2

I finish work at 6pm and go for a quick 5k run around my local park. I haven’t been for a run in a while and am extremely tired by the end. By the time I get home, shower and dry my hair it’s 8pm. I whip together another quick stir-fry and eat it in front of the TV followed by a cup of ginger tea.   

By the time I’ve done the washing up and got ready for bed it’s 10.30pm. I set my alarm for 6.30am and put on an audiobook by 11pm. I fall asleep pretty much immediately, but get woken up by my boyfriend getting into bed at 4am – he works in hospitality so we have very different schedules. I get up to go to the toilet and then try to go back to sleep, but end up having a very restless night. I snooze my alarm until 7.10am and then hurriedly get ready for work.

Day 3     

I’m back in the office today and go for a few drinks with some friends after work, which means I get home at about 8pm feeling tipsy. I eat some leftover dinner from the night before and then try to wind down before bed by drinking a couple of mugs of herbal tea in front of the TV.  

woman checking phone in bed
Sleep Diaries: “my boyfriend works in hospitality so we are on different schedules.”

I’m feeling tired and quite groggy after a busy day and an evening of drinking (and a couple of social cigarettes), so I have a hot shower before getting into bed. I read a chapter of my book and then turn off my light and put on a bedtime podcast by 11pm. 

An hour later, I’m still finding it hard to drift off. The more I struggle to sleep, the more anxious I start to feel. I still feel awake when my boyfriend gets into bed at 3am. We have a brief chat before I eventually fall asleep. I miss my alarm at 6.30am and don’t end up getting out of bed until 7.45am.

Day 4

After a day drinking copious amounts of coffee thanks to my unsettled night’s sleep, I end up having a quick bowl of cereal for dinner (anything that involves as little work as possible) and get into bed by 8pm.

I read my book for an hour before switching off my light and putting an audiobook on. I’m so tired I fall asleep quickly and don’t even wake up when my boyfriend gets in from work. I wake up with my alarm at 6am and snooze until 6.30am.

Day 5

It’s Thursday and I have the day off work tomorrow, so I treat the evening like a Friday night. After work, I head out to meet friends at a nearby Turkish restaurant, where we tuck into a very heavy, meaty meal and polish off more than a few bottles of wine. We head to the pub after and wind up the evening at 1am. By the time I’ve walked home, it’s 1.30am.

I do a very protracted version of my usual bedtime routine and down a few pints of water to try and stop me from feeling too hungover the next day.

I get into bed by 2am and don’t bother to set my alarm. It takes me a while to get to sleep. My heart’s beating fast after the heavy meal and alcohol, and the stomach cramps I had at the beginning of the week have returned. I wake up a couple of times in the night at 4am and 6am to go to the toilet.

Thankfully, I can lie in this morning and I relish it. I wake up at around 11am with a very heavy head. I take some paracetamol and then snooze in bed listening to the radio until 12.30pm. I slowly make it out of bed and make myself an omelette for lunch.  

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 apparently enjoying life but suffering for it in terms of your sleep quality, not to mention your energy levels and your IBS.

“If I was in the mood to be boring, I would say you need to eat a more protein-rich breakfast to optimise your wellbeing and sleep hormone production at night. You should also avoid caffeine and alcohol for six hours before going to sleep, and please try to avoid even the occasional social ciggie. Remember, nicotine is a stimulant, which means that smoking can mask your exhaustion; after all, if you’re feeling sleepy, a hit of nicotine can wake you up and make you feel alert the next day… even when you’re really, really not.”

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

Dr Nerina continues: “I guess the important question is this: are you happy feeling the way you’re feeling? If so, keep doing what you’re doing. However, if you want to feel better health-wise, I will say that you should make these changes. It is also worth taking up meditation or gentle breathwork, as it could be really helpful for both your IBS and your sleep.

“Good luck with everything.”

For more information on the five non-negotiable rules for a good night’s sleep, check out Dr Nerina Ramlakhan’s book, Fast Asleep Wide Awake.

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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.

Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan

Images: Getty

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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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