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Stylist Sleep Diaries: I sleep 5 hours so I can juggle a job and my passion project

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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How well do you sleep? In a new series of diary entries from women across the UK, Stylist is exploring one of our most prolific obsessions…

Here, a trainee lawyer explains how she streamlines her sleep routine so she can fit in working on her podcast every morning before work.

Name: Raifa Rafiq

Age: 25

Profession: Trainee Lawyer and Podcaster

Ideal amount of sleep: 7 hours

Actual amount of sleep: 4 hours 30 mins - 5 hours

Describe your sleep in three words: short, deep and timely

Rate your sleep out of 10: 5/10

My relationship with sleep has always been a bit up and down. In 2015 I developed insomnia because of a few mental health issues, and sleeping became very difficult. I would get one or two hours of sleep a night, max. I tried taking Nytol sleeping tables but they didn’t really help much and just made me drowsy in the day. Then I got better and my anxiety died down a bit, and my sleep pattern became more normal.

Now, I get about four and a half hours of sleep a night. I’m more of a morning bird than a night owl, and I’m very productive in the early morning – 5am to 11am are my peak hours. So I always try to get up early to work on my podcast before I go to work.

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I’m a trainee solicitor working in the city, so it’s normal to have long working hours. On a typical day I’ll work from 9.30am to 8pm, although I’ve had days where I’m still in the office at midnight.

My body clock is so used to waking up early that even when I allow myself to have a lie in at the weekends, I’ll still wake up at 5.30am.

8.40pm: I usually arrive home from work around this time and I’ll chill out and have some food. I don’t really do much in the evenings. I won’t start thinking about my pre-sleep routine until around midnight.

Midnight: This is when my pre-sleep routine begins. I’ll have a shower and then I’ll do my skincare routine. I use coconut oil followed by La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo and Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Extreme Night Pads.

12.45am: Next I like to drink a cup of tea in bed. I love chai tea; it reminds me of Zanzibar, as we have a lot of it there.

Before I get into bed, I like to spray some jasmine onto my pillow. It used to be a tradition in Zanzibar to pick jasmine and put it around the bed to make it smell nice. Obviously I can’t really pick jasmine here, so now I just spray it on.

Some of the products in Raifa’s skincare routine

In an ideal world I would sit in bed and read a book while drinking my tea. I’m not really a fan of non-fiction books, as they remind me of school, and learning. I prefer reading fiction - it feels more leisurely, and gives me a bit of escapism. I’m currently reading How To Stop Time by Matt Haig.

However, I rarely get to read anything at this time. I’ll get into bed and before I know it, I’m completely asleep. I usually only manage a few sips of my tea as well, and when I wake up in the morning it’s sat on my bedside table, cold and icy.

I think it’s because by the time I go to bed I’ve been awake for so many hours that my brain just shuts down. So although my sleep is quite short, it’s also very, very deep.

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Raifa always has good intentions when it comes to drinking tea before bed

It also helps that I have blackout blinds in my room that let in absolutely no light, meaning I can sleep in pitch darkness. You would think this makes it difficult to wake up in the morning, but I always do – although I find it hard to get out of bed!

Finally, I have a travel pillow (like the ones you buy in the airport before a flight) that I wear at night, because I get quite bad neck and back pain. So I put that around my neck for support, and then lie on top of the pillow on my bed. It looks weird but it’s very comfortable!

12.50am: I usually fall asleep as soon as I get into bed. I use my phone as an alarm and I keep it on during the night as I sleep with it in bed with me, as I track my sleep using the Sleep Cycle app. You have to have it in bed with you because it monitors your movement through the night. 

I’ve been using the app for about a year and a half now and I find it really interesting. It shows you the peaks and troughs of your sleep throughout the night, and tells you how much deep sleep or light sleep you’ve had. Mostly it shows me that I plummet straight into a deep sleep as soon as my head hits the pillow, but on the nights when I wake up often, or have a rough night of sleep, it will show me the time periods when I’ve been awake. I look at the app in the morning and think, ‘oh yeah, that explains it’.

But the first thing I look at on the app when I wake up is how many hours of sleep I got throughout the night. Normally it’s around four hours, 58 minutes, and I think, ‘damn it’. I would love to get seven hours of sleep a night but even if I don’t set an alarm, my body still wakes up early.

I don’t think the app has helped me get more sleep. Most importantly, though, it tries to wake me up while I’m in a light sleep, so that I feel less groggy than if I woke up from a deep sleep. So for example, you can tell the app you want to wake up at 6.30am and it will choose a time between 6am and 6.30am when it senses you are in a light sleep, because you’re moving around a lot, and wake you up then. I like that a lot; you feel terrible when you get waken up from a deep sleep.

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The app also records the sound in the room at night so you can see if you snore, and I don’t – thank god. I hate snorers because I know I’ll hear them in the night and it will wake me up and ruin my sleep.

Fiction books help Rai switch off

6am: I set my alarm for 6.30am every morning but I’m usually awake by 6am. Sometimes I wake up even earlier than that and can’t fall back to sleep, which causes me a lot of frustration. I’ll stay lying down for 15 minutes to try and get back to sleep but it rarely happens. I feel frustrated that I can’t sleep but also frustrated that I’m lying in bed wasting precious time that I could be dedicating to other things.

Because I’m so productive in the morning, and work unpredictable hours at the office, I always do my podcast work first thing in the morning. I’m a fully-fledged coffee addict and it wakes me up in the mornings, so making a cup of coffee is literally the first thing I do. I like it black, without any milk or sugar.

6.45am: I usually read or reply to emails. I can’t really go on my personal emails while I’m at work, so this is the only chance I get. I can’t work on my bed because I know I’ll just fall back to sleep, so I usually sit at my dining room table or on my sofa in the living room. I live by myself, which makes it so much easier to get up and get straight to work. I spend about an hour and a half to two hours working every weekday morning, and then we usually record the podcast at midday on Saturdays.

It’s difficult because I know I could be getting more sleep or just relaxing, but I have to do the work if I want to make a good podcast. Its difficult balancing a full-time job with my passion project but it’s what I enjoy doing, so it’s worth it. Although by 11am at work I think, right I’m done!

8.30am: I start getting ready to go to the office, while listening to BBC Business Hour on the radio.

Named by the Guardian and the BBC as one of the top podcasts of 2017, Mostly Lit is an award-winning books and pop-culture podcast, created and hosted by Raifa Rafiq, Alex Reads and Derek Owusu.

Eye mask courtesy of Oliver Bonas

Images courtesy of Raifa Rafiq