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 freelance journalist learns how to break the fatigue cycle she’s found herself stuck in.
A little about me:
Occupation: freelance journalist
Number of hours sleep you get each night: 6-7 hours
Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: 8-9 hours
Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: no, but I gave experienced night terror episodes in the past.
How much water do you drink on average per day: 500ml (I pretty much live on cups of tea!)
How much exercise do you do on average per week: 2 hours (walking and activity with the children – eg visits to a trampoline park)
My 2-year-old crawls into bed with me in the middle of the night, and we’re both woken up by my 4-year-old come 6am.
On the plus side it’s a nice sunny Saturday morning, so we drive 20 minutes to a farm with the grandparents. We spend some time walking around the fields looking at the animals and racing around the haybarn until my toddler falls over in some kind of mud, which I took as a signal that it was time to go home.
Both of the kids were asleep by the time we got back, so after having a quick cup of tea I take the opportunity to sneak in a nap at 1pm.
I fall asleep immediately because I feel absolutely exhausted on the back of a few nights of really poor sleep, and end up waking up much later than expected at 2:45pm.
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It’s not ideal to have the kids sleeping for so long in the day, but for the first time in a long time, I feel rested and refreshed.
We eat cottage pie and vegetables for dinner at 5pm and the kids are asleep by just gone 8pm. I spend the evening chatting to my mum, online shopping and doing a bit of work.
I snack on some bread and butter at around 9pm and have my fifth and final cup of tea of the day at around 10pm. I take my twice-daily epilepsy medication just before getting into bed at 10.45pm. I fall asleep after a few minutes.
I’m woken up at 5:30am by my toddler, who managed to stay in her own bed last night. I have a pain au chocolat and two cups of tea for breakfast before enjoying a lazy morning with the kids, colouring, doing jigsaw puzzles and watching TV.
We then head out for a lunchtime playdate before coming home for a roast chicken dinner at around 5pm.
The kids go to bed as usual at 8pm, after which I sit on the sofa feeling more exhausted than I think I should do. My husband is away at the moment, so I talk to him on the phone and spend my time reading the news online.
I drink my eighth and final cup of tea at 9pm. As a result of being apart from my husband and reading endless depressing news stories about world affairs, I feel anxious and down and have a mild headache as I turn in at 10.30pm.
I fall asleep at around 11.30pm, but an hour later my toddler climbs into my bed and proceeds to starfish next to me, so I end up sleeping curled up on the very edge of the bed.
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I’m woken up at 5:40am today – this time by the eldest. I feel achy – I guess due to the uncomfortable sleeping position I found myself in last night.
I start with tea and two slices of buttered toast for breakfast, but the biscuit tin proves too much of a temptation and I sneak a couple of oaty biscuits while the kids aren’t looking.
We set off on the nursery and school run at 7.30am. It’s a stressful experience as it always is on PE day. After running some errands, I manage to get back at my desk just before 9am.
I have a feature due today which I am slightly stressed about as I’m waiting on a couple of people to get back to me. I also feel tired, so decide to have a tea followed by a sugary coffee to perk me up.
I get back from the school run by 3.30pm and do some more errands. Dinner today is a jacket potato and salad, which we eat at 5pm. The kids go to bed as usual and I have several small cups of tea, finishing the last one just after 10pm.
I get into bed and fall asleep around 11pm, but my toddler appears shortly after. We never did co-sleeping when the children were young, but it does appear that we have moved into a new phase this week.
I wake up feeling bleary-eyed at 5:40am, and have some tea and toast for breakfast before heading out on the school run.
Today there is no getting away from it – I am tired. I down three cups of sugary coffee by the end of the morning as I try to plough through work. By the time the afternoon rolls around, I am tired and glazed and struggling to concentrate.
Tonight is activity night, so the kids and I don’t get home until nearly 6pm. We have some quick dinner (reheated beef casserole with green beans) before I put them to bed and enjoy some online shopping.
I only have one cup of tea this evening, at 9pm, and I turn in at 10.30pm. My toddler is absent tonight, but despite this, I still struggle to switch off and end up lying awake for an hour or more before sleep takes over.
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Another 5.40am wake up today, followed by a stressful getting ready for school process made up of tantrum after tantrum, which leaves everyone feeling stressed out.
I get to my desk at 9am. I am feeling tired, but we have run out of coffee, so tea will have to do today. The first couple of hours go quickly and are relatively productive. I have a lunch of three bean soup with toast for dipping, but then I crash.
By 1.30pm my eyelids are drooping and trying to put a coherent sentence together feels like wading through treacle. I vow to have an early night. This happens every week, with the tiredness getting progressively worse each day as I go through the working week. And it is only Wednesday.
The kids are tired once they’re back from school, so they fall asleep quickly once I put them to bed. I actually doze off alongside them before pulling myself round, and after a cup of tea, I climb into bed at 9.30pm.
It takes me half an hour to get to sleep. At 1.45am, I can hear tiny feet padding into the room…
So, what does it all mean? A sleep expert offers her thoughts
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “I am so happy and relieved that you want to make some changes as I can only see you spiralling into burnout if you continue to live this way. You’re in a classic fatigue cycle! It’s tough, I know – you’re a working mum with two kids, a demanding job and a husband who travels. You need every trick in the book!
“It can feel overwhelming when thinking about where to start but the key is to take one step at a time and the first step is awareness – which you now have as a result of keeping this diary. The next step is taking a look at my 5 non-negotiables for good sleep – in particular, starting the day with a nutrient-rich breakfast with protein, fat and carbohydrates such as scrambled eggs and toast or porridge with nuts and seeds or granola.
“Your caffeine is also through the roof so you need to at least halve your intake, have no caffeine after 3pm and definitely not before you go to bed and aim to drink at least two litres of water a day.”
Dr Nerina continues: “I’m not surprised you’re needing to nap but you’re over napping when you do and this will exacerbate the poor-quality sleep and fatigue. You’re allowed a 20-minute nap at some point between 2pm and 4pm but no later – just to take the edge off your tiredness. You mustn’t nap in bed but, ideally, would be sitting in a chair with an alarm to rouse you after 20mins. Initially, you’ll find it hard to wake up after those 20 minutes, which is why you mustn’t get into bed.
“After 3 weeks or so of these new and better habits, you should find you have more energy and might then even be able to do more exercise.”
If you would like to take part in Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, please email us at [email protected] with your name, age and any sleep problems you’re dealing with, using ‘SLEEP DIARIES’ as the subject. We look forward to hearing from you.
Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan
Other images: Getty/Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
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