How to stop a bad night’s sleep from disrupting your day

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 40-year-old copywriter finds out about how to deal with poor sleep the following morning.

A little about me:

Age: 40

Occupation: copywriter

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 6-8 hours

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: 8 hours+

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems (insomnia/sleep apnea): No, but I do occasionally have rhinitis which affects my breathing. I use a nasal spray like Sterimar when it gets bad. It doesn’t tend to need anything stronger.

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: I grind my teeth and have a mouthguard. My sleep quality seems unaffected whether I wear it or not. I didn’t think I had nightmares but after keeping this diary I realise I probably do. I call them work dreams because they are always about a situation involving my work and real clients – something realistic that has gone wrong. They’re definitely terrifying and I wake up feeling incredibly anxious. I don’t know if it’s being hot or a bad dream that wakes me or a combination of the two.

How much water do you drink on average per day: 1.2-1.5 litres. I don’t drink coffee or tea (just herbal teas).

How much exercise do you do on average per week: I walk for about 30-40 minutes daily and do some kind of exercise video most mornings for between 15-45 minutes. It’s usually a combination of cardio, pilates or some kind of strength training. However, this goes out the window if I’ve had a bad night’s sleep.

Day 1

Last night I woke up at 2am thinking about work and couldn’t get back to sleep. I felt hot – but it’s too cold at the moment to go without the covers, and while a sleep meditation usually helps, it’s not the most comfortable experience wearing headphones in bed (I don’t want to wake my husband).

With this in mind, I decide to try and focus on my breathing, but that doesn’t work so I put on a 45-minute sleep story. Before I know it, I’ve reached the end and I know I’ve been lying there an hour or more, which makes me more anxious. I run the sleep story again and eventually fall asleep.

My alarm goes off at 7.30am but I change it to 8am to give myself a bit more rest. I don’t feel like exercising but I walk the dog and have some breakfast about 9am-ish before I start work at my desk. (I normally have fruit, yoghurt and a low-sugar granola or porridge with honey and cinnamon). I’m about to start an IVF cycle, so I also have my pre-conception vitamins.   

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I’m surprised that I don’t actually feel too bad today despite the lack of sleep. I feel pretty calm and stress-free and not that tired.  

I walk the dog at lunchtime before a lunch of a vegetable soup I’ve made with some tinned salmon and hummus on oatcakes. I’m trying to make sure I get my five a day and get a good amount of protein to help with the IVF. Some days I’m better than others!

After lunch I head back to my desk until about 7pm and then make dinner, which we eat before 8pm. I then spend a bit of time answering messages on my phone, before we sit down and watch something on TV. I drink a few cups of ginger tea in the process and head up to bed about 11:30pm.  

“I drink a few cups of ginger tea and head up to bed about 11:30pm.”

Once I’m upstairs I check any last messages from friends on my phone, take off my make-up and fill in this book I’m using at the moment to record how my day was. I spray my bedding with a lavender sleep spray then read in bed for ten minutes until I’m ready to sleep.

I always put my phone on a mode that silences it from 10.30pm until 7.30am to try to get me into a good routine but I often check it before bed. I also have an electric blanket on a low setting for one hour. My bedtime routine is the same most nights. I get to sleep with no problems, feeling tired.

Day 2

I’ve just finished taking a tablet called norethisterone which is used to help me bleed at a certain time, ready to start my IVF cycle. I often get sleepless nights before a period but this is like that times 100 because I can take it for weeks at a time. I’ve had a week of unsettled nights at this point – and last night was no different.

At 4am I was wide awake, worrying what a client meant by an email and whether they were happy with my work (something that wasn’t really on my mind during the day). 

I toss and turn, trying to sleep. I look at the clock and see that it’s 5am – I’ve now been awake for an hour. As a result, I adjust my morning alarm clock for 8.30am to account for the lack of sleep before putting on my sleep app. I eventually fall asleep.  

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I wake at 8.30am feeling horrendous, with a splitting headache which is there most of the day (until I take paracetamol).

I don’t do any exercise today, although I do manage to walk the dog. My work is quite intense today and I’m working for a new client so I want to do a good job. My sleepless night makes me feel paranoid about my work even though before the lack of sleep and bad dream I felt like I was performing well.

I manage to get through the day and have a hot milk about 9pm and go to bed at 9.30pm. Once I’m there I read my Kindle, before turning the light off after 10pm.  

Day 3

My days are all quite similar at the moment because I’m needing to shield ahead of IVF so I don’t really leave the house. (If I get Covid-19 then I can’t go into the clinic so I’m doing everything I can to avoid it).

Because of this, my day is quite similar to yesterday – although I do wake up feeling a little better because I managed to sleep through the night, only waking briefly. I’m still groggy though and don’t feel like exercise, but I take the dog for a walk twice.

“I’m still groggy and don’t feel like exercise, but I take the dog for a walk twice.”

By the evening I’m still feeling tired and plan on getting into bed early, but we end up staying up for one more episode of the boxset we’re watching and it’s 11pm before I know it.

I head upstairs, get ready for bed and read my Kindle for a little bit before turning off the light at 11:30pm.

Day 4

I managed to sleep through the night last night, and wake up at 7:30am. I do an exercise video to start my day before getting ready and starting work.

I finish up about 7pm and then get started with dinner. Once we’re done eating, I look at my phone messages and social media while my husband washes up. We then move to the sofa where we watch Netflix until about 10:30pm. I drink some hot milk while we’re watching, as well as some ginger teas.  

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Once we’re done with our show, I head upstairs to get ready for bed and end up turning the light off around 11:20pm.

Day 5

I slept fine again last night and manage to wake up feeling refreshed at 8am before getting ready and starting my day.

I finish work and sit down for dinner about 6:30pm. I also have a chocolate cookie with hot milk a bit later, around 8pm. I start to feel tired about 9.30pm but I want to finish my episode of Selling Sunset, and before I know it, it’s 10.30pm.

I head up to bed and fall asleep quite quickly – I manage to sleep all the way through to my alarm going off at 8am. 

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “There’s quite a lot going on here and I really want to help you, especially as you’re on the IVF journey. Your diaries tell me that you’re hard on yourself, a perfectionist. You really care about your work and what others think of your performance, but this is often to your detriment. There are some good habits in place, but I want to build on this so that you can improve your sleep.

“So, how can I help you go deeper with your self-care? It is important to get the right balance of rest and activity and I want to challenge you to believe that you can still find the energy to function optimally, even if you haven’t slept so well.”

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “At the moment, you have a strong belief that not enough sleep means you have to catch up with more sleep in the morning or you can’t then exercise. You would be better off getting up at around your normal time and then doing some gentle exercise including gentle breathwork rather than oversleeping and then waking with the sleep inertia that you have experienced.

“I also want you to start focusing on what makes you feel an inner sense of safety. Affirmations such as ‘I am safe in my body’ and ‘I am enough’ used repeatedly several times a day and even during the night could help to shift your physiology into a more receptive mode. You might find my Amazon Audible meditations helpful – in particular, the ‘Love yourself to sleep’ meditation. Good luck!”

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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