Want to feel more rested when you wake up? Try making these simple changes

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 44-year-old managing director learns how to feel more rested when she wakes up in the morning.

A little about me:

Age: 44

Occupation: managing director

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 7 hours (although I reckon the quality isn’t great as I wake up tired most mornings)

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: 8 hours (I don’t care as long as I wake up feeling rested!)

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: I grind my teeth. I have had to get veneers because of it and I wear a mouth guard.

How much water you drink on average per day: less than 1 litre, unless you count teas and coffee.

How much caffeine do you drink on average per day: 3 cups of coffee and at least 1 cup of tea.

How much exercise do you do on average per week: nothing for the past 2 months, but this week I started exercising again to improve my mood and also to try and get fitter. I will aim to do 4 hours of exercise classes a week – 2 will be yoga-based and 2 cardio/gym-base

Day 1

It’s Saturday, but today is a busy one. I usually skip breakfast or just have coffee and toast, and today I opt for the latter before driving across town to get my daughter to gymnastics, during which I do a Body Balance class. Once I’m done, I have a cup of tea and a Naked bar and read until she’s done.

We drive home and I have soup and bread for lunch. I also have two coffees throughout the day, although I’m trying to not have cups of tea after 7pm and coffee after 4.30pm. I’m also trying to drink more water, as I’m lucky if I drink a large glass a day.

For dinner, I have a Charlie Bingham Spanish chicken meal (which is delicious) and a glass of red wine. My daughters (aged 9 and 11) have a friend round for a sleepover, so by the time I get them off to sleep it’s about 11pm. I fall into bed, knackered and wound up, and take my daily 100mg of sertraline with some water. I toss and turn for a while before falling asleep. 

“I’m also trying to drink more water, as I’m lucky if I drink a large glass a day.”

Day 2

I wake up at 8.30am feeling surprisingly OK and head downstairs ready to be positive and take on the day. I have eggs on toast for breakfast.

It’s a busy one morning – after the girls’ friend leaves, I take them to the swimming pool before heading to do a food shop with them in tow (this is always challenging with my eldest daughter as she is autistic and really struggles with the noise, bright lights and number of people in the supermarket).

Afterwards we pick my husband up and head home for a roast dinner. I drink a few glasses of sparkling water with it. I also have my usual three coffees throughout the day.

When evening comes, Peter (my husband) runs me a bath, makes me some herbal tea and does bedtime so I can relax. Then we both get into bed about 9pm and watch an episode of Kaleidoscope on Netflix (it’s brilliant, by the way). I struggle to get to sleep. 

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Day 3

I hate Mondays, but today I really struggle to get out of bed as I’m feeling groggy. However, I manage to cajole the girls, give them their breakfast and get them off to school, complete with packed lunches, while I wash some leftover toast down with coffee.

Once that’s done, I have a bunch of online work meetings which suck the energy out of me. For lunch, I make a cheese omelette and have more toast and a cup of tea.

I have a mid-afternoon coffee with a chocolate wafer bar and then go back to work, but not before sorting out a wash so the kids will have what they need for the rest of the week. (I work from home so constantly juggle housework, kids and work!)

“I have a bunch of online work meetings which suck the energy out of me.”

About 5.30pm, I stop working and start making the dinner for us. When the kids arrive home at 6pm with the childminder, we all sit and have dinner (home-made sausage casserole, broccoli and mash). I drink a glass of wine and then have a cup of tea and a few jaffa cakes.

Once I get the kids showered and in bed, I have fennel tea and watch Kaleidoscope in bed again before drifting off. I use the ThisWorks lavender spray but still struggle to get off to sleep and feel quite restless. 

Day 4

Tuesdays are always manic and Edinburgh is freezing today, so even though I get up and do the usual breakfast and school run, the frost and cold isn’t helping to lift my mood. Because of this, I make sure I wear nice clothes and decide to work from the local Costa for the morning, where I drink two pots of tea and have one of their Balocci wafers.

I storm through my work and leave at midday. Once I’m home I switch between making pasta sauce, checking work emails and answering WhatsApps on my phone, all the whole telling myself I am fine and that my low mood will pass.

I have a MugShot and toast for lunch, and later have some dates and a biscuit with coffee, before leaving home at 2:30pm armed with post-school snacks so that the girls can eat before their piano lessons. I also have a thermos of pasta and sauce for them that they can have before we go swimming and diving at 6pm.

Once I’ve left them poolside I do a Body Balance class hoping it will lift my mood, and it does offer some respite. I then have a hot chocolate because there wasn’t enough pasta and sauce left for me.

We get home about 8.15pm, and my husband takes over the childcare duties while I sit munching my way through two jaffa cakes, a wafer bar and some tea and toast. We watch TV for an hour and then go to bed – we switch the laptop in bed for the TV as my sleep has been really impacted for the past few nights and I think that is potentially why. 

Day 5

I usually get up and go to the gym at 6.30am on Wednesdays, but although I’m awake and feeling pretty rested today, it feels too cold to get out of bed. I also have a horrendous headache, so I have a hot shower instead.

I love Wednesdays as Peter works from home and he takes the girls to school, so I get a degree of respite. I have my usual breakfast (orange juice, coffee and toast) and actually have time to sit and enjoy it instead of rushing around.

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For lunch, I have a banana, some dates, scrambled eggs on toast, tea and a coffee, and work right through until 1pm when I head to the hairdressers. I then pick up my daughter from the library at 4pm and have a bottle of sparkling water.

I pop round to my neighbour’s house for a quick coffee at 4.15pm and then rush home at 4.45pm to make dinner (salmon, carrot mash, kale and broccoli). I eat quickly and then head across town to take my daughter to fencing. I am supposed to be at yoga but the class is cancelled so I sit and wait during her class.

When I get home, I organise the kids for bed, have a cup of tea and some jaffa cakes (even though I know they may affect my sleep, I think “f””k it, I deserve them”). I reckon my period must be due.

I get into bed about 10pm and get to sleep rather quickly. My husband’s alarm goes off at 5am (he has to go to away for work for a few days so I am alone with the kids). After I say bye to him, I doze until I get up at 7am.  

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “I’m not surprised you’re waking exhausted in the mornings and are struggling with your mood. 

“You’re clearly in a fatigue cycle. You can definitely break this cycle and feel better, but are you prepared to make the necessary lifestyle changes? Your life is stressful and demanding juggling work and children, so you need your energy.

“Where to start? You are a classic candidate for my five non-negotiables – the five strategies that will really change your relationship with sleep and your energy levels if practised diligently for the next 14 to 21 days. This is a key part of my unique sleep methodology and I have seen it work for my clients for over 25 years.”

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “Firstly, you need a nutrient-rich breakfast within an hour of rising. This could be porridge with nuts and seeds or eggs or full-fat yoghurt with fruit, nuts and seeds. 

“Your caffeine intake is far too high and you’re not getting away with it. You need to cut back drastically and increase your water intake so you’re drinking at least two litres of water per day. 

“You’ve twigged that watching TV in bed on your laptop isn’t helping your sleep so this needs to change. Ideally, you need to watch TV in another room and then wind down for bed with an uplifting, life-affirming book or meditation. You need to go to bed thinking the world is a good place so that you can slide effortlessly into deep, velvety sleep waking with the energy to enjoy life.”

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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