This common bad habit can play havoc with your sleep – here’s how to make a change

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 35-year-old senior graphic designer learns how to let go of her need to control her sleep.

A little about me:

Age: 35

Occupation: senior graphic designer and founder

Number of hours sleep you get each night: varies from 5 to 8 (randomly broken)

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: 7 to 8 (unbroken)

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems (insomnia/sleep apnea): no

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: no (and I hardly remember my dreams)

How much water you drink on average per day: no idea, I don’t take notice

How much caffeine do you drink on average per day:none

How much exercise do you do on average per week: around 180 minutes

Day 1

I cancel my gym session at 4:40am and manage to go back to sleep until 7am. I eat two pieces of toast with butter and jam for breakfast with a glass of homemade pineapple juice. I tend to eat about 30 minutes after I wake up.

When 6pm arrives, I have an unusual dinner of crackers and cranberry cheese with a glass of Vimto (we eat together as a family), before doing a ten-minute workout before bathtime.

I put my three-and-a-half-year-old to bed around 8pm. I start to read to her but end up falling asleep several times, waking to her saying ‘Can you read?’. I don’t know how long I slept for but it felt like a really deep sleep. The quick nap gives me some energy and I continue reading until she’s asleep, around 8:30pm.

I decide to go to bed straight away without watching TV, just before 9pm. I go on my phone for a bit and then fall asleep almost straight away. 

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Day 2

I’m woken up at 1:37am by my dog whining and crying downstairs. I get up and tell him to go to bed and then head back upstairs, but I’m still awake at 2:03am. I can’t get back to sleep so I go on my phone for a bit, and end up thinking about my daughter’s upcoming birthday party, topics for therapy I do on Wednesdays and my shopping list. I spend time just tossing and turning.

At 3am the dog is whining again, but I eventually manage to fall asleep again around 4am.

My daughter comes in to wake me up at 7am. We all try to sleep a bit more before eventually getting up at 7:35am. My eyes are heavy and I feel exhausted from having such broken sleep, but I grab myself a boiled egg and a glass of pineapple juice for breakfast.

My stress levels are off the charts, and the dog did damage to the house overnight. This leaves me feeling down for the rest of the day. I try to nap around 4:30pm, but just end up resting my eyes. I’ve drunk a lot of water today.

We have steak and chips for dinner at 6pm and I have a Kinder Bar chocolate for dessert. I also have a bag of Cheetos around 9pm, and drink some more water.

I go to bed around 9:30pm. I’m exhausted but wired – overtired, basically. I fall asleep straight away. 

“I wake up at 5:27am even though my alarm is set for 5:50am, and head out to a gym class.”

Day 3

I wake up at 5:27am even though my alarm is set for 5:50am, and head out to a gym class. I feel more rested and cheerful today than I did yesterday.

After the class I have a boiled egg and a glass of apple juice for breakfast. Throughout the day I don’t end up drinking much water – especially compared to yesterday.

I put my daughter to bed at around 8pm but end up falling asleep while doing her bedtime routine. My daughter is asleep by 8:30pm but I wake up again at 8:45pm after falling asleep.

I head back to the living room but my eyes are heavy and I don’t last long, eventually falling asleep while watching some TV. I end up heading to bed at 9:45pm. I can’t keep my eyes open. 

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Day 4

My daughter wakes me up at 3:53am so I join her on her floor bed. It takes me a while to fall asleep again, but eventually I do so – waking up a few hours later with her leg around my neck.

I head to the toilet and climb back into my own bed at 6:15am. My eyes are heavy and I fall asleep fast and deep, naturally waking up at 7:01am. I don’t feel too tired despite the broken sleep.

I feel upset and down for the most of the day – there’s too much going on in my head. We have roast chicken with rice and coleslaw for dinner which I pair with a glass of homemade lemonade. I realise I haven’t drunk much water today.

After dinner I watch the football because I’m not feeling tired, and then head upstairs to read in bed around 10:30pm. I fall asleep 20 minutes later. 

“After dinner I watch the football because I’m not feeling tired, and then head upstairs to read in bed around 10:30pm.”

Day 5

I wake up at 1:52am with a sore throat, but fall asleep again within 25 minutes. I wake up several more times throughout the night but manage to get straight back to sleep every time. I get out of bed at 6:12am.

I’ve been feeling down for a couple of days now so I write down some thoughts and have a good cry. I follow that with some life admin – clearing some leaves from the garden and putting fairy lights outside the house – and I finally feel a bit better.

I play tag outside with my daughter and dog just before dinner time at 6pm, and have some water when I get in. We then eat dinner – pizza, garlic bread and my homemade lemonade.

It’s my turn to do bedtime again and my daughter was wonderful. She was practicing cutting with plastic scissors – I fell asleep as usual but she kept doing her thing until she said she was going to sleep. Beforehand she shows me the lovely rainbow she had drawn and cut around. She puts it under her pillow and we cuddle until we fall asleep.

I wake up around 15 minutes later – it’s 8:45pm. I still feel tired and end up heading straight to bed, where I fall asleep quickly. I only end up waking up once in the night around 5:55am. At last, I have a night of unbroken sleep and wake up feeling energised and ready to go to the gym. 

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “I counted 30 references to the time in your diary! Herein lies one of the keys to your poor sleep and very apparent exhaustion.

“When we’re in a fatigue cycle and, metaphorically, running at the back of the treadmill, we seek to feel in control. This can show up as an excessive preoccupation with the time. We can all find ourselves in tight places where it feels as if, if we control everything ‘out there’, we might feel better ‘in here’. Perhaps this is something to explore in therapy?

“To help her break the fatigue cycle, I’d like you to apply my five non-negotiables for a good night’s sleep for at least 7-10 days. Also, can you work on not checking the time especially when you wake during the night?”

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “Another thing I’d like you to do is ask yourself every day – and especially as soon as you wake up – ‘How can I make more loving choices towards myself today?’ It would be great if you can also use the affirmation, ‘Help me to make more loving choices for myself today’. 

“Who you’re asking for help doesn’t really matter – the gift lies in the asking and then, being open to notice and receive the help when it comes in, sometimes in subtle ways. This practice, over time, will help you to create a greater sense of inner safety and from here, perhaps you can relax into sleep…and life.

“For more information on these and other practices please check out my latest book Finding Inner Safety.” 

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