“I spend the whole day on a screen – how can I stop it from affecting my 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 36-year-old director and digital creator learns how to reduce the impact her work has on her sleep.

A little about me:

Age: 36

Occupation: director and digital creator

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 6 hours

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

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: yes, I have to wear a mouth guard at night because I clench my teeth. I don’t grind them but I also have nightmares because I have an underlying incurable autoimmune illness which causes me to overheat, causing nightmares as a result.

How much water do you drink on average per week: 2-3 litres

How much caffeine do you drink on average per day: I only have water or a matcha latte which I make myself.

How much exercise you do on average per week: very limited – if any! Sometimes I will sit for 14 hours straight and just get up for refreshments or the bathroom.

Day 1

My alarm is usually set for 7.00am and it takes me around five minutes to move. After I have washed my face, I am usually awake and I am fully focused, but today I have a bit of brain fog. I spend a few minutes on the rowing machine which helps me to clear my head.

I eat porridge with cinnamon for breakfast to regulate my blood sugar levels and I have a ginger shot to help boost my immunity before starting work. On average I work from 7:30am until around 7pm each day – my optimum creativity is in the morning until 10:30am.

Once I’m working I don’t often move from my desk unless I’m getting refreshments or using the bathroom. I am trying to stretch more, but during the day I live in a virtual world and spend a lot of time on social media because of my job. I am exposed to high levels of screen time and I do know I am overdoing it – but feel I am addicted to social media. Even before I go to sleep, I am staring at my phone and I don’t know how to overcome this.

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My mood is frazzled today – I am hyper-sensitive and very anxious. I have suffered from thyroid problems before because I have a rare incurable autoimmune illness, so if my nervous system is at capacity, I run my thyroid down too.

I eat some chocolate before bed as I’m feeling a bit low mood-wise. However, I know eating sugar before bed won’t help my sleep. My sleep ends up being disturbed because my anxiety is through the roof and I’m worried about everything. I have a very restless night, because I keep overheating and waking up.

“I eat some chocolate before bed as I’m feeling a bit low mood wise.”

Day 2

I sleep in until 10.30am because I have extreme Zoom fatigue due to the high number of calls I do each week. I’m also feeling tired from staring at a screen for a long time.

I am aware of how frazzled I am, yet I get twitchy if I don’t check my socials. I am feeling super fatigued (no surprise there!) and I feel like my body is made of lead.

I don’t feel like eating much this morning so have a banana and a pomegranate and ginger shot for breakfast. Throughout the day I feel really tired and low – I’m hyper-sensitive, everything is making me cry and I know I am losing myself because I have no boundaries.

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Getting to sleep was relatively easy and I manage to get into a pretty deep sleep, but then my partner starts snoring so I wake up. When I get back to sleep, it’s not as deep as before.

I get distracted by noises such as the blind moving on the windowsill or people outside when this happens, and tonight I can feel myself clenching my teeth. Luckily I’m wearing my mouth guard – I have this because I have TMJ disorder and my jaw cracks a lot, and this has helped reduce the intensity of the headaches I get. 

Day 3

I wake up naturally at 7am but go back to sleep until 8:30am. I managed to get some deeper sleep during those hours, but I was woken up again by my partner snoring.

I make porridge with berries and cinnamon for breakfast, which ties me over until lunch when I have sushi followed by some biscuits and chocolate. I feel sluggish in the afternoon (no surprise) and develop a migraine. I have decided to make some changes.

I manage to walk around Birmingham Bullring for a few hours but at a slow pace because I’m feeling tired from being woken up in the night. I’m not feeling as hyper-sensitive as I was earlier this week, but I’m still feeling pretty low.

When I head to bed I sleep a bit better but get woken up by my partner snoring again. Then I overheat a bit and can’t sleep due to my immune condition.

“I feel sluggish in the afternoon (no surprise) and develop a migraine.”

Day 4

I’ve decided to start focusing on my health after reading back the first few days of this diary, so I set my alarm for 6am and do a 3,000 steps routine on YouTube to get my blood pumping.

The exercise definitely made me feel better and I feel a lot brighter this morning because of my early wake-up – hopefully I can keep it up.

I have a ginger shot and rice cakes with almond butter and strawberries for breakfast. I’ve decided to start monitoring my food going forward and trying to cut out some sugar.

I manage to keep up this healthy focus for lunch and dinner, but I end up snacking on chocolate and biscuits in the evening because I’m bored by not spending as much time online.

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When I head to bed I have a terrible night’s sleep. My partner comes to bed really late and snores for most of the night, so I’m woken up over 10 times. I then start to overheat from stressing out about my sleep (which happens when my medical condition goes into negative mode).

A lack of sleep affects me a lot because I’m immune suppressed, so I know tomorrow I’m going to be feeling ill as my immune system drops.

Day 5

I make a green smoothie with spirulina for breakfast to give my immune system a boost after my terrible night’s sleep, which I follow with two rice crackers with almond butter.

Despite feeling tired I do a 10-minute dance workout to get my blood pumping and to shake off the fatigue I feel from not getting a good night’s rest. However, I’m still feeling very tired.

I know I need to make better food choices and start moving away from my computer but I am so tired from last night that I just work through because I don’t know any different.

Throughout the day I get chills and hot flushes because I haven’t slept and my body needs rest so I am trying to stop getting ill but all I need is sleep at this point.

When I head to bed I’m dreading being woken up by my partner. It’s so hard wanting sleep but struggling because you have another person waking you up and you have an immune condition. Having a solid 8 hours with no distraction or noise is the dream!

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “I really want to help you as you’re clearly struggling and want to make changes but can’t break the negative cycle you’re in. Your condition seems to give you a lot of feedback which you listen to, but you don’t seem able to make the necessary changes.

“Of course, there’s far too much online time – which you’re aware of. I’d like to give you some small, realistic goals to work on to help get you on track. This starts with building more movement, tech-free breaks and recovery time into you day. Can you watch my TEDx talk in which I talk more about this?”

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “To start with, I’d like you to set a timer and get up every hour to change channels for 5 minutes or so. During this time, you can walk, breathe mindfully, stand barefoot on grass, think mindful and grateful thoughts, eat or drink something healthy or stretch. There is a myriad of things you can do but the key is that this time must be tech-free.

“I’d love to help you deal with your partner’s snoring. Besides him getting help to deal with this common problem, I suggest good ear plugs and/or a fan or some form of white noise in the bedroom to buffer out the noise.”

If you would like to take part in Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, please email [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

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