“My sleep is constantly disrupted – how can I stop feeling so tired?”

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 32-year-old publishing director learns how to keep her energy levels up despite having her sleep disrupted.

A little about me:

Age: 32

Occupation: publishing director

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

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

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: I grind my teeth. My dentist has told me I’ll need to wear a mouthguard when I sleep soon if I don’t relax because I’m at risk of cracking my teeth.

Do you measure your sleep in some way (e.g. using your phone or wearable): I used to use my Fitbit but now I use the health app on my phone.

How much water do you drink on average per day: not enough, about 1 litre of just pure water.

How much exercise do you do on average per week: none, but I do have two small kids so I’m fairly active!

Day 1

The kids are in bed by 9pm – it’s later than I would like but my eldest had a swimming lesson until 7:30pm so we had to have dinner late once we got home (spaghetti carbonara).

After we’re finished, I put the girls to bed and do the washing up before getting things ready for the next day. My husband and I get ready for bed ourselves afterwards and head up around 10pm. Once we’re there we decide to watch some TV, and end up watching a couple of episodes of something on Netflix.

I fall asleep at some point during the second episode around 11pm, and end up sleeping fairly heavily until I’m woken up at 5am by the baby monitor – my youngest daughter is talking to herself in her cot.

I manage to drift back off for an hour or so before my alarm goes off at 7am.  

“We decide to watch some TV, and end up watching a couple of episodes of something on Netflix.”

Day 2

I’m late picking up the kids from their after-school clubs and nursery as the internet wasn’t working all morning, so I have to cram all my work in the afternoon as best I could. I didn’t end up getting it all finished however, so my mind is still full of everything I need to do.

My youngest daughter has dinner at nursery so she eats a snack while my husband cooks the rest of us dinner. I put her to bed at 7:30pm followed by my eldest at 8:30pm – late again, but only by 30 minutes this time.

I had planned to do a few hours of online coworking with a friend after I’d done everything around the house, but end up falling asleep on the sofa at 10pm with the news on while waiting for my friend. 

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I go to bed at 10:45pm but end up tossing and turning all night. I wake up at 5:45am to the baby monitor again and with a sore neck and face – I must have been grinding my teeth and clenching my jaw again.

The baby goes back to sleep quickly but I lie there awake until 7am before jumping in the shower. I feel more awake once I’m done.

Day 3

My mum is working from home today so comes round at 7:30am to help me get the kids ready because my husband is in the office. I don’t usually eat breakfast until after I’ve done the school run, but my mum makes scrambled eggs on toast so I eat that. I also make us coffees with our ‘fancy’ coffee machine I bought for my husband for his birthday last year.

I have a small lunch with my youngest daughter, and then we do the school run together at 2:45pm to collect the eldest. We play in the park for an hour with school friends before going home – my husband is home from the office early so I start cooking dinner.

I get the kids to bed at their actual bedtimes today, so by 8pm we’ve eaten, the kids have had their bath and I have time to get a couple of hours work in with a friend. It turns into more than a couple of hours and two beers, so I end up going to bed at 1am.

“I don’t usually eat breakfast until after I’ve done the school run, but my mum makes scrambled eggs on toast.”

I fall asleep a few minutes after getting into bed but I’m woken up not long after by my eldest who has a bad cough – we had Covid a few weeks ago and we’ve all been left with the same cough that just won’t go.

I manage to get her back in bed and asleep by 2:30am, so I can do the same. However, the night’s not over yet as the youngest wakes up at 4:30am. After 45 minutes of cuddles in our bed, she’s ready to go back to sleep. We all wake up at 7:30am to start the day. 

Day 4

I’m feeling pretty tired but my husband is taking our daughter to nursery today, so I can sleep in a little longer. My eldest stays home because she’s tired and coughing too much.

She naps on and off throughout the day and ends up feeling a little better, so I have time to work. I also have a few work-related errands to run, so get them done first thing.

My husband is supposed to be in the office today but he worked from home because of how little sleep we all got. In a change to our usual routine he also ends up picking up the youngest from nursery just before 6pm, so I manage to get an extra hour of work in.  

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I’ve got a work event tomorrow and I know I’m feeling stressed about it on some level. The organisation for it hasn’t gone to plan and I’m anxious about how it’s going to go.

Once we have dinner and both the kids are in bed, my husband and I decide to watch TV in bed for a couple of hours. I fall asleep before 9pm and luckily both the kids end up sleeping through the night as well. I wake up to my alarm at 7:05am. 

Day 5

It’s Friday and I have a book launch for work in central London, so I’m up, showered and out of the house by 9am. I’ve got a suitcase full of books for the launch with me, and lugging it around certainly tires me out.

The event goes well which is a relief, but I’ve not had a chance to eat anything yet today and it’s the start of a heatwave, so I grab a couple of cookies and a fizzy drink from the buffet at the end of the launch event at 5pm. I also get a juice and a water at the platform café while waiting for my train home at 6:30pm.

Luckily my suitcase is now almost empty, so it weighs hardly anything and is easier to carry. I’ve got a migraine brewing though, which I know is my own fault for the lack of food and water I’ve consumed today. I always forget to eat and drink when I’m busy. 

“My dad picks me up from the train station at 8:30pm with some paracetamol and a bottle of water.”

My dad picks me up from the train station at 8:30pm with some paracetamol and a bottle of water because I told him I have a headache coming on. The kids are both in bed when I get home, and my husband has made me a quick, cold picky bits meal as he knows I need to eat before my migraine makes me too nauseated.

I get into bed by 9:30pm and I’m asleep pretty much as soon as my eyes close. I wake up around 3am to go to the toilet and then check on the kids on my way back to bed. I’m asleep again by 3:20am and sleep through until 8:30am when I’m woken by the baby monitor.

My migraine is gone when I wake up, and I’m feeling refreshed. I know its partly from the sleep but mostly its due to not having the stress of the event I’ve been working on for months hanging over me anymore. 

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: ““A busy working mum with a high pressure job and two young children needs her sleep, but your batteries seem to be running on empty a lot of the time.

“You seem to have good support from your partner and parents but you do need to make better self-care choices so that you can meet the pressures of your life without burning out.

“You need to follow my five non-negotiables, particularly when it comes to eating breakfast and hydration. This is especially important because you’re prone to migraines.”

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “With two young children there is a lot of running around but not enough functional activity to keep you fit (believe it or not), keep those stress levels and adrenaline at bay and help you sleep deeply.

“My hope is that if you can prioritise your nutrition and hydration, you may find that you have more energy and inclination to exercise which will help you to cope better with the disrupted sleep and life demands.

“Oh, and falling asleep in front of the TV and watching TV in bed is not great, although I can sympathise with the temptation to do this after a day of giving to everyone and everything.” 

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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