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

Time management impact on sleep: a sleep expert on how improving your habits can help you get a better night’s rest

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 53-year-old project coordinator wonders why she always feels as if she hasn’t had enough sleep.

A little about me:

Age: 53

Occupation: project coordinator

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 5 or 6 hours

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: I’d like to get the recommended 8 hours

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems: no, but I sleep on my front a lot.

How much water you drink on average per day: I drink at least 7/8 glasses of water

How much exercise I do on average per week: most days I go for a walk of at least 4,000 steps

Day 1

I finish work at 6pm, and sit down half an hour later to a dinner of chicken casserole. After eating, I send some more emails and shut down my PC. Then, I head to the supermarket to do my food shopping (and grab myself a coffee and pastry while I’m there, as an evening snack).

I get home at 9.30pm, and, despite fighting off a headache, unpack shopping before sitting down to watch TV.

Bedtime is at 11pm, but I do spend some time on my phone looking at news, apps and emails. Then, 40 minutes later, I start reading a book as I think about tomorrow.

As such, I don’t turn the lights off until just after midnight. But it’s not an easy night’s sleep; I feel cold, so get up to add blanket. Then, I wake up as I’m too hot, so I hop out to open a window. It’s not long, though, before I’m too cold again, so I get up, shut the window, and finally fall asleep 

Croissants in a bakers oven. - stock photo
Sleep Diaries: I treat myself to a late-night croissant.

Day 2

I wake up after what feels like a good nights sleep – by which I mean that I don’t wake up in the night, and sleep through until 6am (instead of the normal 5am) – so I feel quite refreshed. As always, though, I don’t remember any dreams.

It’s a busy day at work, and I don’t finish until 6pm. I use the time to go through personal emails, before sitting down to dinner an hour later; it’s another casserole, but this time there’s cake for a pudding.

Once I’ve eaten, I take a really hot and long bath, Then, feeling tired, I work through a backlog of emails until 10.30pm.

Job done, I watch TV until midnight, flicking through the channels; again, I have a headache, so I’m feeling a bit wired.

Eventually, I head to bed at 12.30am, where I check through my phone apps, news and emails. I’ve no idea what time I fall asleep.

Day 3

I wake up around 5.45am feeling clammy and as if the room is too warm. As I can’t get back to sleep with the noise of the traffic and birds singing outside my window, I look at my phone and spend some time thinking until I finally get up around 7.15am.

Again, it’s a busy day, and I work through until 7.15pm. Then, I have dinner and a glass of wine (along with lots of water), but I find that I can’t wind down; tonight, I’m feeling anxious.

When I head to bed, I can’t get to sleep, so I read a book on my Kindle. The last time I look at clock it’s 1.30am.

Young woman with insomnia reads a book lying on the bed
Sleep Diaries: I end up reading until the early hours of the morning.

Day 4

It’s the weekend, but I wake up dehydrated and clammy. I don’t look at clock as I know it’s really early ( I can’t even hear any traffic outside, although the birds are singing loudly).

Eventually, I look and learn it’s 6.20am. Honestly, I feel awful, with a really groggy head, so I find it hard to get up and get going.

This feeling lasts for much of the day; I’m tired, and the groggy head doesn’t go away .

I sit down to a plate of spaghetti bolognese at 7pm, and fall asleep on sofa shortly after. I wake up at 9.30pm, still feeling tired, but force myself to stay awake by watching TV until 1am.

When I get to bed, I check my phone for news, read a few pages of my Kindle, and then fall asleep.

Day 5

I wake up far too early again, and can’t get back to sleep. I lay in bed for a couple of hours thinking and checking my phone, but I eventually get up around 7.30am as I’m bursting for the loo.

I have dinner at 6.30pm, work through my emails for an hour afterwards, and then watch TV until 11.30pm.

Feeling calmer, I make myself stay awake until the clock strikes midnight. Then, I climb into bed, check my phone, and read a few pages of Kindle, before realising I can’t sleep. Cue me spending most of night awake.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You’re really stuck in a fatigue cycle and there’s some work to do here. Your nervous system is out of balance which is why you’re struggling to manage your body temperature at night, but good lifestyle habits can make a big difference. 

“Let’s start with the 5 non-negotiable bedtime rules:

  1. Eat breakfast within 30 mins of rising, and make sure to include some protein. It doesn’t have to be big; even a piece of toast with nut butter is enough.
  2. Cut back on caffeine and stop using it as a substitute for food, especially for breakfast. No caffeine after 3pm and ideally no more than two coffees a day.
  3. Increase hydration to two litres of water per day.
  4. Get yourself to bed earlier at least four nights a week. You want to be in bed around 9.30-10pm, and aim to be relaxing, reading, meditating. Do not use any electronic devices.
  5. And on that note… keep electronic devices out of the bedroom! 
    Dr Nerina Ramlakhan Stylist's sleep expert
    Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

    Dr Nerina continues: “I have to ask, as you don’t say: are you eating breakfast? Your hydration seems OK, but consuming caffeine at night isn’t going to give you the deep sleep you need, especially when you’re teaming it with a sugary pastry and even more work.

    “I really think you need to work on getting to bed earlier, and keeping your phone out of the bedroom. Following these strategies for a week or so will really help to get you out of the energy slump you’re in.”

    Dr Nerina finishes: “I hate to nag, but more steps are needed – along with better time management.

    “We’ve got a chicken and egg situation here – poor habits are leading to fatigue and bad sleep which are perpetuating poor time management and even more fatigue and bad sleep. 

    “So, are you committed to breaking this cycle? Can you value yourself enough to do this? I really hope so. Because if so, you’ll be rewarded with more energy and then you can start doing the things that will truly bring you joy and even more energy.”

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    If you would like to take part in Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, please email us at 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/Ben Blennerhassett/Taisiia Shestopal

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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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