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“Why do I keep waking up in the night and before my alarm?” 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 33-year-old marketing consultant wonders why she keeps waking up earlier than she needs to.

A little about me:

Age: 33

Occupation: marketing consultant

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 7

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

Do you measure your sleep in some way? Yes – I have a Fitbit

How much water do you drink on average per week: 1.5 litres

How much exercise do you do on average per week: Monday – Friday I do 15 minutes of yoga in the morning and normally an hours walk at lunch

Day 1

After a lazy Sunday I log onto my laptop at about 5pm to do some content creation. I write a blog post and newsletter, create my plan for the week ahead and then log off around 7:45pm.

I sit down and have salmon, new potatoes and vegetables for dinner. I then remember I haven’t taken my tablets for the day so have half a glass of water (normal tumbler size) with vitamin C and take my iron tablet, vitamin D and a multivitamin.

On Sunday I try to have a slightly more relaxing evening than in the week, so around 9:30pm I get into the bath, into which I’ve poured a healthy amount of lavender bubble bath. I also light a lavender and camomile candle. I stay in for 45 minutes, and end up getting into bed at 10:45pm.

I wake up once in the middle of the night at 2:25am, and then again at 7:30am – an hour and a half before my alarm is set to go off at 9am. My eyes are tired and I don’t feel as refreshed as I would like, but I get up and do 15 minutes of yoga and write down my goals before jumping in the shower. 

A bubble bath
“On Sunday I try to have a slightly more relaxing evening than in the week, so around 9:30pm I get into the bath, into which I’ve poured a healthy amount of lavender bubble bath.”

Day 2

Mondays are always busy days and I had to make an announcement about a new service so it was an even busier day than usual. I stop work for dinner at around 7pm but end up logging back on to my laptop to prepare for some client sessions the next morning. I take my vitamin tablets at about 8pm, and manage to stop working at 9:30pm.

I spend the next hour doing some Instagram Reel research (I need to create some for work the next day) before getting into bed at 10:45pm. I read for 30 minutes – I’m currently reading Banking On It by Anne Boden – before turning off the light at 11:15 and closing my eyes. 

Yet again, I wake up in the middle of the night, and then wake up again at 7am, even though my alarm is set for 8am. I feel tired when I wake up, so I snooze until 7:45am before getting up and doing my morning routine: yoga, writing down my goals and then getting in the shower.

Day 3

Tonight I’m heading out on a date. We meet at 5:15pm for about two hours (during which time I drink two cocktails and a cider), and then I walk to a networking event while eating a cheese and onion sandwich. When I arrive, I have a big glass of water.

I decide to travel home around 9:30pm, and get in at 10pm. For the next half hour I chat with my dad, before jumping into bed at 10:30pm and checking social media. Without realising it, I end up scrolling until 11:30pm – whoops!

For the third night in a row, I wake up early in the morning, this time at 5:30am. I manage to get back to sleep, but wake up at 7:15am with a headache. I then snooze until 8:15am before getting up and doing 10 minutes of yoga, writing down my goals and having a shower. I also make myself a smoothie and am at my desk for a client call at 9am.

A woman doing yoga in the morning
“I snooze until 8:15am before getting up and doing 10 minutes of yoga, writing down my goals and having a shower.”

Day 4

I co-host a podcast and we record from 6-7pm, after which I head back to work – tonight, I’m writing a blog and a newsletter. I stop around 8:30pm for some dinner (a quick fish finger sandwich) and then head back to my desk around 9:15pm. I end up working until 11:15pm.

After I’m finished I quickly jump into bed and scroll on social media until midnight, before falling asleep. However, I wake up around 2am. I manage to get back to sleep until 7:50am, at which point I wake up naturally. My eyes feel heavy.

Day 5

Tonight, I eat dinner at about 8:15pm. At 9pm, I start watching YouTube videos about TikTok strategy while applying shellac to my nails, before having a chat with a friend at around 9:40pm.

At 10:10pm I shut my computer down, but I can’t go to bed just yet as I need to pack for a trip to London the next morning. I end up getting into bed at around 11:15pm, and have to set my alarm for 6:20am (which is very early for me). At this point, I’m already anxious about how tired I’m going to feel in the morning.

I wake up at around 5am, but snooze until my alarm goes off at 6:20. I do feel tired but I don’t have any time to hang around, so I jump up, do some Instagram stories and head into the shower – no yoga or goal setting today. I manage to have some Weetabix for breakfast and then I’m out of the house by 7:10am.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “I love your morning yoga and goal writing routine – clearly you are a highly motivated and driven individual. However, I’d like to recommend a few tweaks which might just improve your sleep, energy levels and ability to meet those goals. 

“For a start, there’s no problem with measuring your sleep but you should avoid getting too fixated on the data. You should also stop looking at the time during the night. All human beings experience up to 20 mini awakenings during the night – this is totally normal. Worrying about it, checking the time and scrolling (never do this!) all bring you into full consciousness and stop you being able to get back to sleep easily.”

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

Dr Nerina continues: “Also, the sleep that one gets after 6am is of limited value, although it is nice to have, so you shouldn’t worry if you wake before your alarm in the morning – perhaps you could simply enjoy those minutes lying in bed resting or bring in some yogic breathing to optimize the quality of the rest. This might also be a great time to practice some form of gratitude meditation for the day ahead – one of the best ways of starting your day on the right foot, in my opinion.”

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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 your name and age, using ‘SLEEP DIARIES’ as the subject. We look forward to hearing from you.

Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan

Other images: Getty

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.

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