Sleep Diaries: what impact does our diet and lifestyle really have on our sleep?

“Is having a TV in your bedroom really that bad for you?” 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 presenting these diaries to sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan for analysis.  

In this week’s Sleep Diaries, a 32-year-old IT manager wonders why she’s so exhausted after seven hours of sleep. Could her TV be to blame?

A little about me:

Age: 32

Occupation: IT business process improvement manager

Number of hours sleep you get each night: seven to nine

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

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems: no

Do you measure your sleep in some way (e.g. using your phone or wearable): no

How much water you drink on average per day: 3-5 cups of (green/fruit) tea and 2/3 pints of water

How much exercise I do on average per week: I try to get out for walks after work – so typically about one to two hours of walking. However, I didn’t do this during the week of the diary as the garden needed work!

Day 1

I finish work (from home) at 5.30pm and head outside to do some weeding in the garden for about an hour. Then, I eat a leftover pasta bake for dinner. At around 9.30pm, I have a cup of caffeine-free fruit tea, and then settle down in front of the TV until 11.45pm (I’ve just started watching Money Heist, and it’s addictive!)

Some nights I start to fall asleep in front of the TV, but I feel fine tonight – potentially as Money Heist is so engaging. I head upstairs, get ready for bed and climb into bed at midnight, setting two alarms (one for 7.20am and one for 7.30am) as I do so; I never get up for the first, but try to for the second.

As it’s so hot day, we sleep with the fans on – we have one either side of the bed – and we have a tablet at the side of the bed that we always play some kind of TV programme on to fall asleep to – usually American daily shows. Tonight, it’s Seth Myers’s turn.

It takes me about half an hour to get to sleep, which is quite a long time for me – I typically fall asleep quickly. And I wake up around 3am from a dream I remember involving slugs, probably as I came across one under one of my plants when weeding earlier. I get up to pee then fall back asleep quickly.

Day 2

My alarms go off as planned, but I snooze until 7.40am. I feel OK when I get up – not too groggy – and I make sure to eat some breakfast (porridge with banana) at 9.30am.

I pretty much work through the day and clock off feeling mentally exhausted, but I still go into the garden to do some more weeding and re-potting for about two hours. Then, I make chilli for dinner, but it isn’t ready until 9pm. We follow it up with several chocolates and a cup of fruit tea, before watching TV (yes, more Money Heist!) until 11pm.

I feel tired tonight, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow, as it’s mine and my partner’s three-year anniversary… and there’s no work, either. Before bed, I get my bag and clothes ready for the next day, set my two alarms (this time for 7.40am and 7.50am), and settle down around midnight. Again, it’s a hot night, so our fans are on – as is the Tablet playing a daily show.

I fall asleep quickly, but wake up around 12.45am and 3am needing to pee. Thankfully, I manage to nod off easily both times.

Lack of sleep impacting fitness
Sleep Diaries: I wake up feeling groggy.

Day 3

I wake up naturally at 7.20am but feel tired, so lie in bed until 7.50am. I have some toast around 9am, before heading out for the day to Thorpe Park.

It’s a long day of walking in very hot weather and, despite applying lots of sun cream, my shoulders are a little burnt. We get home around 6.40pm feeling very tired, so order a Thai takeaway for dinner, which arrives at 8.30pm.

We watch TV until 9.45pm and then, feeling shattered, head to bed early. My alarms are set for 7.20am and 7.30am, the fans and Tablet are on, and I fall asleep quickly. Again, though, I stir up at 4am feeling hot, thirsty, and needing to pee. Luckily, I nod off again reasonably easily.

Day 4

I feel tired when my alarms go off and snooze until 7.40am. Still groggy, I get up and make myself a bowl of cereal for breakfast about 9.45am. Then, I work through the day; the weather has turned and it’s raining by the time I clock off, but at least it’s not sweltering.

I still make sure to do an hour’s gardening, repotting plants and tidying things up. Then, I tuck into a bowl of leftover chilli at 7.30pm and watch TV until 10.30pm (there’s a new episode of Loki on Disney+ today, so we watch that before returning to Money Heist).

I head to bed as I’m struggling to stay awake, but my overtiredness means it takes me longer than usual to get ready. My head hits the pillow at 11.30pm (the Tablet is on and my two alarms are set, as ever) and I fall asleep quickly. 

My dreams are vivid tonight; in one, I am visiting an old school friend in Cornwall (who I haven’t seen for years). This is likely as my husband and I are planning a Cornwall trip and she popped up on my Facebook feed yesterday, though.

Alarm clocks
Sleep Diaries: I set two alarms every morning, so that I can snooze through the first one.

Day 5

I wake up at 6am as my husband thinks he’s heard a noise and heads off to check it out (luckily, all is fine). As I’m up, I take the opportunity to go for a pee, then head back to bed and fall asleep quickly.

I’m tired when my alarm goes off at 7.10am, and I don’t eat my breakfast (toast with jam) until 9am. This grogginess stays with me for most of the day, so i drink coffee at lunchtime to try and wake myself up.

We head out for dinner tonight at Nando’s, before going to the cinema to see In The Heights and munching through some popcorn. This means that we don’t get to bed until midnight, but it’s Saturday tomorrow and I don’t have to set my alarms as early as usual; one for 9.20am, and one for 9.30am.

I don’t wake at all during the night, but I do wake up naturally before my alarms at around 8.50am. I still feel tired, but I definitely have more energy than the last few days. I grab a slice of toast for breakfast at 10.20am and then dash out the door; I’m meeting friends at 11am.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “The overriding theme for you seems to be one of tiredness. Now don’t get me wrong; you’re a good sleeper – normally I tell people not to check the time when they wake during the night as it can stop them getting back to sleep, but in your case, you seem to be able to get back to sleep easily so it’s probably not an issue.

“However, I feel that the depth and quality of the sleep you’re getting isn’t great, which is why you feel so groggy.”

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

    Dr Nerina continues: “You really need to get that TV out of the bedroom and use relaxation techniques, such as reading or meditating, to help yourself fall asleep instead.

    “Why? Well, having a show on in the background might feel lulling, but it’s a false economy; you’re soaking in blue light from electronics, which messes with the quality of your sleep by suppressing production of melatonin (the hormone that keeps your sleep/wake cycle in check), and delaying sleep onset (the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep). 

    “This means, then, that your sleep will be shallower and less restorative.”

     “You’re also getting to bed very late and, while I prefer for people to stick to a bedtime routine, I really think you could benefit from heading to bed earlier at least three nights a week.

    “As I’ve said before, the hours of sleep we get before the clock strikes midnight is actually the most powerful phase we can get – and it’s all to do with how our bodies respond to the changing light levels in the evening.

    “Hopefully, making these tweaks will add more vitality to your life. Good luck with it.”

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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/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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