Struggle to switch off? Try this simple 10-minute technique for relieving stress before bed

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 37-year-old business consultant and sensitive sleeper learns how to stop bringing her stress to bed with her.

A little about me:

Age: 37

Occupation: business consultant

Number of hours sleep you get each night: I’m in bed for anywhere between 8.5-9.5 hours, but my sleep is probably around the 6.5-7 mark on a good night.

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

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems (insomnia/sleep apnea): No, but I have suffered with insomnia in the past.

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: I clench my teeth more than grind. I also have vivid dreams and occasionally stressful nightmares. 

How much water do you drink on average per day: Depends on exercise. Without exercise probably 1.5 litres in winter and up to 4 litres in summer (I live between the UK and Spain).

How much exercise you do on average per week: I usually go to the gym/exercise 4 times per week. Sometimes more. 

Day 1

My alarm goes off at 8:30am and I got up straight away. I actually felt rested (a rare occurrence) despite going to bed past 12am. I think it’s because my husband (who is a snorer) was away for the night, so I slept more soundly.

I have a coffee at 9am before starting work. I work until around 6ish and don’t end up taking much of a break during the day.

After I finish I head straight to the gym to do a 45-minute workout made up of weights and cardio. When I get back I have a chicken, artichoke and chickpea salad for dinner around 8:15pm accompanied by a glass of red wine and a square of dark chocolate.

I drink a sleepy tea while reading from my Kindle for an hour (dark mode), before putting my phone in another room and switching the light off around 10.30pm. I fall asleep quite quickly, for me at least. 

However, my neighbour wakes me up at 11:30pm despite wearing earplugs. I’ve worn earplugs and an eye mask to bed every night for the last 15 years+ and can’t sleep without them. I’m very sensitive to sound (although they were being very noisy). My husband also woke me several times during the night because he was moving and/or snoring.

“I’ve worn earplugs and an eye mask to bed every night for the last 15 years+ and can’t sleep without them.”

Day 2

My alarm goes off at 7am, and I wake up feeling tired and a bit grumpy. I also have a twitch in my eye which has been there for the last few weeks.

I find starting work hard, and I’m distracted easily because I’m feeling so tired. I end up having a coffee and two biscuits at 10am and some toast at midday. I don’t end up leaving the house at all (not even to the gym) because the weather outside was pretty grim.

I have an adulty chat with my husband in the early evening (finance stuff) before drinking two glasses of red wine and eating a warm salad: beans, greens and serrano ham. I also have a cookie and then settle down to watch an hour of a documentary about Andy Warhol.

We turn the lights off about 10:30pm but end up chatting for a bit before going to sleep. I fall asleep quite easily but wake up a few times in the night (I often get pins and needles in my arm or leg) and have a few vivid dreams. 

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Day 3

My alarm goes off at 7:30am, although I’d been awake for a while when it went off. I’m feeling tired again, although it wasn’t a terrible nights sleep by my standards. I lay in bed for a cuddle for a bit because my husband is WFH before getting up.

I have a coffee and two biscuits at 9am before diving straight into work emails. I then have some fruit, yoghurt and water at 10:30am before heading to the gym at lunchtime. My trip to the gym helps me to feel more energised throughout the afternoon.

When I finish work I have two glasses of wine with an early dinner – lettuce wraps stuffed with brown rice, tofu and veggies. I also have a piece of dark chocolate.

After I watch another hour of the Andy Warhol documentary before heading up to bed to read my Kindle. I switch the lights off about 10:30pm.

My sleep is disrupted because I keep getting numb hands and feet. It’s really uncomfortable.

“I have some fruit, yoghurt and water before heading to the gym at lunchtime. My trip to the gym helps me to feel more energised throughout the afternoon.”

Day 4

My alarm goes off at 7am and I wake up starving (unusual) and very tired (usual).

I eat some toast and have a coffee at 8:30am, and have leftovers for lunch at midday. I also have a few sugary snacks throughout the afternoon, and another coffee at 1:30pm.

I continue working until 5:30pm, when I log off and hit the gym for 45 minutes. Afterwards, I have a huge bowl of pasta accompanied by a glass of red wine and a square of dark chocolate. I eat this while I’m at my online evening class between 7pm and 9pm – I’m feeling very distracted throughout the class.

When I’m finished and ready for bed I tuck myself in and read for 45 minutes. I then take a quarter of one of my anti-anxiety pills to help me switch off.

I fall asleep easily, although I do wake up a couple of times throughout the night – once to go to the toilet and a couple more times with pins and needles in my hands and feet.

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Day 5

I’m awake before my alarm at 8am, but I stay in bed until it goes off. I feel better today than I have the last few days – I’m less tired but not as well-rested as Monday.

I have a coffee and some biscuits at 9am followed by some fruit at 10:15am. I then head to the gym at 12pm and take the rest of the afternoon off.

I enjoy a chilled evening after having wine and lots of food at lunch. I watch a film before heading to bed and reading my book. I feel asleep around 11:30pm relatively easily.

I wake once or twice during the night and feel like I could have slept more when my Saturday alarm goes off at 9am.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You’re a sensitive sleeper who really needs a good sleep toolkit. It doesn’t help that you sleep with a snorer. Have you had a chat about his snoring? I would encourage him to hydrate, cut back on caffeine and alcohol and get more exercise in if possible – these can all help with snoring.

“Back to you, you’ve suffered from insomnia in the past and I suspect that not only are you a sensitive sleeper who needs to deal with your stress before you get into bed, but you’re also a perfectionist. What are you doing to relax and let go of your stress at the end of the day – other than alcohol? I recommend you cut back on drinking during the week.”

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “Would you be open to trying journaling at the end of the day, too? I recommend a timed 10-minute brain dump of everything you’re worried about before you turn the lights out, as your vivid dreams and jaw clenching are likely related to you carrying your stress to bed with you. 

“Your breakfasts and lunch aren’t helping either – where’s the protein? Coffee and biscuits for breakfast doesn’t cut it! You especially need a protein-based breakfast to stabilise your blood sugar levels. It would also help you to produce the melatonin that will help you sleep at the end of the day.”

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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