How to stop Sunday night anxiety messing with your 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 29-year-old teacher tries to overcome a fatigue cycle triggered by Sunday night anxiety.

A little about me:

Age: 29

Occupation: teacher

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 6-7 hours

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

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

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: no

How much water you drink on average per day: 1.5 litres

How much caffeine do you drink on average per day:2-3 cups coffee/tea

How much exercise do you do on average per week: 4-5 hours

Day 1

I wake up just before my alarm at 6.10am after an absolutely horrific night’s sleep. It might have been the Sunday night jitters and anxiety before going back to the working week, who knows, but I called my boyfriend at around 1am for comfort after lying in bed stressed out and restless for two hours.

It seemed to help as I fell asleep soon after, but I woke again briefly at 3am before falling back asleep until morning. Once up, I have a coffee at 7am as I get ready for the day before leaving the house to arrive at work for 8am, where I eat a breakfast of toast with marmalade before the students come in.

I leave work just after lunch as I have an appointment to attend, which I am grateful for. I was definitely feeling a bit teary and short-tempered and it was tough to keep a happy face on when teaching. I treat myself to an apple, a vanilla oat milk latte and a packet of BBQ chickpea crisps for lunch.

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I have a longer appointment today than usual so I get home at about 5.30pm having walked the 35 minutes home. I snack on some dates before completing a 45-minute at-home pilates workout video to try and make myself feel better, as I’m still somewhat unsteady and stressed.

It doesn’t work but I shower and eat dinner (a big bowl of penne with vegan bolognese and wilted spinach) and chill/cry on my boyfriend for a while before he leaves to go home. I’m exhausted so I complete my prayers, watch the final episode of a BBC drama and get into bed at about 10.30pm having snaffled two chocolates and a glass of kombucha for my sweet tooth. After spending a while scrolling on my phone and talking to my partner, I promptly fall asleep at just after 11pm.

Day 2

I wake up when my alarm goes off thankfully feeling a lot more rested than yesterday. I didn’t wake up at all last night although my puffy eyes assure me I still need more time in bed. I follow my standard morning routine with coffee but today I make a berry smoothie with peanut butter and oats to try and make up for the lack of vitamins yesterday; I’ve noticed I’m looking more sallow lately and my hair has been thinning, so I’m really trying to improve my diet in an attempt to heal whatever unhealthyness is eating away at me.

I rush off to lunch at 12.40pm – it’s Art Day today and both me and the students are having a lovely (if not loud) time. I have a vegan spicy coconut and rice noodle pot for lunch and a cup of coffee.

I arrive home just after 5.30pm as I have some volunteer work to do from 6pm. I have a quick cup of tea and a couple of dates to get me through it, and later on I do a HIIT workout and sit down to have a dinner of vegan bangers and mash with veggies at 7.30pm. Although I’m ready for bed at 10pm having completed my nightly skincare routine and watched a cookery show, my boyfriend comes round and I don’t get to bed until just after 11pm.

“I make a berry smoothie with peanut butter and oats to try and make up for the lack of vitamins yesterday.”

Day 3

Today I wake up just before my alarm feeling like I don’t want to partake in the day. It’s a slower morning and although I have a coffee to perk me up, I end up leaving the house ten minutes later than planned with bread and marmalade in tow for when I arrive at work. I promise myself that I will sleep before 11pm tonight.

I have a quick lunch of vegan sausages and spinach with an apple after the kids go home. It’s been an emotional and somewhat frustrating work day but I’m not sure if it’s me or the students or both. We have training after work and as I then stay behind to complete some assessments, I don’t get home until 6.30pm.

Once in, I do a quick strength workout before showering and sitting down to a dinner of jacket potatoes with baked beans – boiled carrots on the side for that vitamin A – at about 8.30pm. I complete some more assessments in front of the TV for a while before I do my night routine and head to bed, a glass of port in hand while I read. I fall asleep at about 10.30pm.

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Day 4

This morning I wake up with my alarm feeling slightly cloudy headed – guess I have the port to thank for that, although I did sleep well so I’m not complaining.

I sleepily make my way through my morning routine and oddly enough actually arrive at work early. However, I forgot to pack breakfast so I have my second coffee of the day to see me through the morning of lesson planning.

I take a quick break for lunch and eat some vegan sausages, spinach and a baked potato. I also have an almond milk matcha latte at a cafe with some colleagues but I need to quickly rush back to work for an afternoon training session. The session finishes up and although I had planned to leave at 4pm, I end up staying until about 4.30pm to finish up some classroom displays.

“I end up staying until about 4.30pm to finish up some classroom displays.”

I rush to get home at about 5.30pm and hurriedly make a cup of tea to have while teaching a student online for an hour. The lesson finishes and my Mum comes round with my dinner – homemade chickpea curry and roti. It’s delicious and I eat that at around 8.30pm after doing a 45-minute cardio workout, showering and completing my typical night-time routine of prayers and skincare.

I have an apple and peanut butter just before crawling into bed at about 11pm, promptly falling asleep after some scrolling and speaking to my boyfriend.

Day 5

I wake up just before my alarm with mild horror because it’s a trip day! Although I slept very well last night, I decide to treat myself to a Pret vanilla oat milk latte and a homemade peanut butter bagel for when I get into work in order to mentally prepare myself for what could be a stressful yet enjoyable day. Damage control, if you will.

Thankfully it’s a really enjoyable day and the students have a lovely time at the temple. I have lunch with them and eat a vegan hoisin duck wrap and a packet of crisps with some kombucha.

We arrive back at school and although I try to stay to do some work after they go home, my colleagues have bought me a glass of wine at the local pub so I leave at 5pm to join them. I have two glasses of wine in total before leaving to visit my mate at her brand-new flat at 7pm.

Once I’m there I have some more wine, a large packet of crisps and then get an Uber home for about 10pm. I’m a bit tipsy so I ignore my night routine, boil up some instant noodles and eat that with my leftover curry and roti. I fall asleep on the sofa at 11pm before waking up and rolling myself into bed at midnight. Thank goodness it’s the weekend!

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “Even though you have some good habits, you seem to be in a fatigue cycle – you exercise regularly and your night-time skincare and prayer routine are a perfect way to wind down and prepare for good sleep. However, you then scupper that by scrolling and ‘Sunday night syndrome’ hits you and you start your week off balance. 

“This happens to so many people – they go to bed on Sunday night and then can’t sleep as they worry about what lies in the week ahead. If this resonates with you, I recommend forgetting about sleeping and putting the focus on ‘resting’ – it’s a subtle shift in mindset but it can make a big difference. And Sunday night is definitely not a good time to be checking the time throughout the night – this is one of the biggest hindrances to being able to get back to sleep when you wake up.”

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “Your diet isn’t great and is definitely fuelling (‘scuse the pun) your fatigue, poor sleep and anxiety. I want you to skip that morning caffeine for a good, nutrient-rich (particularly protein) breakfast. You can have your coffee afterwards but not before as this is just sending you further down the anxiety route. 

“Can you take a look at my five non-negotiables and make a commitment to do them for two weeks and see how differently you feel? Teaching is such a demanding job and good energy and sleep is needed!”

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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