“I get loads of sleep, so why am I so tired?” 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 38-year-old communications professional wonders why she keeps waking up feeling so tired.

A little about me:

Age: 38

Occupation: communications professional

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 9 hours

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: 9-10 hours

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems: no, but I do clench my jaw and grind my teeth

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

How much exercise I do on average per week: I take the dog for regularly walks

Day 1

After a busy long weekend visiting family in their gardens and a day spent in the park with friends, Sunday is a quiet day. I spend the day doing washing, some gardening on the balcony and take the dog for a short walk around the neighbourhood (she is exhausted from the weekend too!). 

My partner and I sit down around 5pm to watch TV and read, then I have a couple of glasses of rosé wine while he cooks. We eat (salmon in tomato sauce with rice and spinach, followed by yoghurt) around 7pm in front of the TV. After that I go for a bath and chat to my mum on the phone, then head to bed around 9.30pm to read some more. 

The bedroom is what my partner calls ‘hermetically sealed’ – I have to have it perfectly dark (despite the fact that I wear an eye mask), perfectly quiet and very cold. But this means that I usually fall asleep within minutes of turning off the light. This evening, though. the dog wakes us up at nearly 10.30pm as she needs to be let out for the bathroom again.

My partner takes her out, but it is past 11pm before I get back to sleep.

Shot of a young woman sleeping with a mask on in bed
Sleep Diaries: I always wear an eye mask to bed, without fail.

Day 2

The alarm is set for 7am, and I wake up feeling tired (possibly the rosé?), despite the fact it feels like I have slept hard. I get up straight away, head outside with the dog for 20 minutes, then return to bed with cup of tea until I get up to start getting ready for work at 8.15am.

This is my first day back at work after a week off, so I am feeling bit stressed, rushed and unprepared for restarting the working week. I have four cups of tea by 9am and breakfast is toast with butter while checking my emails. I don’t move from my desk until 12.30pm – grabbing a couple of clementines as a snack – when I heat up spinach soup and more toast for lunch. I’ve had two large glasses of water by lunchtime and I sneak a small bit of leftover Easter egg.

I take the dog out mid-afternoon to the park and grab a coffee at a local café. Then it’s back to my desk, and I work through until 7.30pm. 

Dinner tonight is butternut squash with salad and mozzarella, and I wash it down with plenty of water. Then, I flit between emails and watching Netflix’s Seaspiracy, and wind up down an internet black hole for 45 minutes. 

I’m in bed for 10.30pm, where I read for 30 minutes and then go to sleep. As ever, I fall asleep quickly.

Day 3

It’s not a great night’s sleep, as I wake up several times and am wide awake before my 7am alarm, too. As such, I feel exhausted this morning and my plans for an afternoon run go out the window. Instead, I take the dog out for a walk, then return to bed with tea and Radio 4.

I’m at my home desk for 8.30am, and have my breakfast there (porridge and berries), along with another tea and lots of water (two pints). It’s back-to-back calls all morning, so my partner brings me a coffee around 11am. At lunchtime, I prep some lentil soup and toast to eat at my desk during meetings (camera off). 

Oatmeal porridge with berries and honey on wooden table.
Sleep Diaries: My usual breakfast is a bowl of porridge and berries.

Come late afternoon, it’s time for another tea ahead of a few more hours spent on Zoom. I finish at 5.30pm and walk the dog for 1.5 hours. When I get home, I go back to work until 8pm. Then I sit down to dinner (chicken salad wrap) in front of the TV, while simultaneously cruising Rightmove for fantasy houses! 

Once again, I’m in bed for 10pm, where I read until the lights go out at 10.40pm. 

Day 4

I’m woken up with period pains at 2am, and then the dog wakes us up at 6am, so I feel quite tired! I follow the same routine as previous mornings, popping outside with the dog and then retiring to bed with tea and Radio 4 for a bit! I’m sat at my desk for 8.30am, as I’m in a rush; I eat breakfast and do my make-up while reading my emails.

It’s another day of video calls, and I don’t break until 1pm, when I take the dog out for an hour in the park. My partner has made me a chicken wrap (leftovers!) for lunch and this is consumed in the spare five minutes before I get back to work. 

At 4pm, I break and pop out to buy chocolate biscuits, which I wolf down while drinking tea, and then I’m back in meetings until 5pm. Once they’re finished, I spend the rest of the day catching up on emails.

I take the dog out around 6pm for an hour, enjoying the light in the evening. Then, I rustle up a super quick dinner of fishcake and veggies, which I wash down with a glass of squash and follow up with a yoghurt, then head back to my desk to catch-up on work until I switch off the laptop at 9.45pm. 

I’m feeling wired, and so flop in front of the TV for 30 minutes. As such, I don’t get to bed until 10.30pm and then end up reading and chatting in bed until 11.15pm. My mind is still buzzing when I try to sleep, so it takes me a little longer than usual to nod off.

Day 5

Again, I wake up feeling tired and head into another hectic day. I have the same breakfast of porridge and berries, followed by about four cups of tea before lunch and two pints of water. 

I take the dog out for an hour at lunchtime, and come back to soup and toast. Then it’s into another afternoon of calls, although I make sure to have a break for tea and biscuit around 4pm. 

After work we head out for a walk, and we don’t get home until 8pm, so dinner is a quick pasta dish followed by a yoghurt. We’re currently watching Drive To Survive, so consume an hour of TV, and then potter around the house. I’m in bed for 10pm and planning to read, but I am dead tired, so I turn off the light and fall asleep straight away. 

It is a delightfully chilly evening and with the fresh air I sleep well.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You have some great habits – from keeping your bedroom nice and cold for optimal sleep and reading in bed, to keeping your sleep area dark – and I love that your doggy is keeping you fit and active. I feel you would really get more bang for her buck if you could just ‘clean up’ a bit on the nutritional side of things.

“What do I mean by this? Well, I feel your energy fluctuates a bit throughout the day and, while you’re definitely getting enough sleep in terms of hours, the quality could be improved by cutting back your caffeine and including more protein-rich snacks throughout the day.

“I suggest adding nuts and seeds to your porridge, or spreading nut butter on your toast maybe? Doing this would also help stabilise your blood sugar levels, which means less sugar cravings and a far deeper sleep.”

    Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
    Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

    Dr Nerina finishes: “More consistent hydration would also be good, and to achieve this I recommend you halve your caffeine intake. I also must be strict and say no caffeine after 3pm.

    “Finally, taking more regular breaks from the screen between meetings and consciously relaxing your neck, shoulders and jaw throughout the day might also help with the bruxism (teeth grinding). 

    “Good luck!”

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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/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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