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“I get 8 hours of sleep but still feel tired – could my exercise routine be the reason?”

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 freelance journalist learns how to improve her sleep routine to match her active lifestyle.

A little about me:

Age: 29

Occupation: freelance journalist

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 7-8 hours

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: 9 hours (at least)

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: 2 litres

How much caffeine do you drink on average per day: 2 cups of coffee before 2pm, and 2-3 cups of English breakfast tea after that.

How much exercise do you do on average per week: I do at least some form of exercise five times a week. It’s normally a mixture of three resistance training sessions in the gym, at-home pilates and the odd HIIT session.

Day 1

Today is a busy one. I head to the gym in the morning, devour an omelette, go to watch a live football match and then eat out at a local Italian restaurant. I don’t get in until 10pm.

I have a shower, make myself a hot water bottle and read in bed until around 11.30pm (wild, Saturday night right?). I’m not a big drinker because I hate feeling hungover and feeling sorry for myself the next day.

I fall asleep sometime after 11.30pm while thinking about the three glasses of red wine I had at dinner, and hope and pray I don’t feel the effects tomorrow.

“I fall asleep sometime after 11.30pm while thinking about the three glasses of red wine I had at dinner, and hope and pray I don’t feel the effects tomorrow.”

Day 2

I wake up naturally at around 8am and I’m instantly regretting saying yes to another glass, as I’m feeling tired and a bit anxious.

To remedy this I make myself a big plateful of sweetcorn fritters topped with an egg, avocado and roasted tomatoes and drink more water than I usually would.

At around 3pm I finally feel more like me, so I go for a brisk walk, and I start winding down for bed at around 8pm.

After this timeI try to keep to my strict no-phone policy as I find looking at screens really keeps me up at night, so I have a hot bath, pop my phone on charge and end up reading in bed until 10pm. I fall asleep shortly afterwards.

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Day 3

I wake up to the sound of my alarm at 6am, which I set so I can go to the gym (Monday morning is usually the only day I don’t feel lethargic). I silence my alarm and then stagger out of my dark bedroom (thanks to blackout blinds) before grabbing my workout clothes, finding the door and heading downstairs. 

I drink a glass of water, a mug of coffee and get ready for the gym before heading out. I don’t eat my breakfast of porridge with cinnamon, blueberries and pomegranates until around 8.30am.

“I run myself a bath, make myself a plateful of salmon, veg and quinoa and settle down for the evening.”

It gets to 6pm and after a busy day of WFH catching up on emails, writing and resistance training at the gym, I say no to my usual Monday HIIT Class, which starts at 7pm. Instead, I run myself a bath, make myself a plateful of salmon, veg and quinoa and settle down for the evening.

It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made all day. If I haven’t got any after work plans I’m usually in bed by 9.30pm reading and I’m off a screen by 8pm, but not tonight. By 9.01pm I’m sitting in front of my TV watching Love Island’s new presenter Maya Jama do her thing. I watch the reality TV show until 10.30pm and head to bed shortly after.

Day 4

I’m tired today, but my alarm goes off at 6am so I can do my morning pilates (I compromise by doing it in my PJs). Afterwards I have a quick shower, eat crumpets topped with avocado and get ready to head off to work.

I get back home from work at around 6pm after a busy day and speak to my niece and nephew over FaceTime. I then eat a plateful of pea and veg pasta (it’s nicer than it might sound) my partner has cooked.

We have our showers and head to the sofa, spending the night jumping from one program to the next. I’m in bed by 9.45pm. We both read until 11pm until it’s lights off and the black out blind is down.

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Day 5

I wake up at 6am when my alarm goes off, before silencing it. I roll over and eventually get out of bed by 7.30am. I sack off my morning gym plans, head downstairs for water and caffeine and write up articles to make my deadlines and get back to emails all before starting a full WFH shift. I make it to the gym at lunch time instead.

After wrapping up work, I see a friend for an early pizza dinner. We eat, we drink non-alcoholic drinks and we laugh until around 10.30pm.

I get back home, have a shower and stick to my usual routine of reading in bed until 11.30pm. I drift off to sleep and it’s no surprise that when my alarm goes off in my blacked-out room at 6.30am, I’m feeling tired.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You have some great lifestyle habits and seem pretty aware but a few tweaks could help you feel more energised.

“Most importantly, you need more sleep. You’re working out hard and have a busy life and therefore need to be consistently getting to bed around 10pm most nights, especially during the week.

“When you exercise hard, as you do, the body needs time to recover, repair and actually grow stronger, and getting enough sleep is an important way of ensuring this. Earlier nights could help particularly with this, particularly as you’re up early to exercise.”

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “Do you nap? This could also help to top up your energy, maybe at the weekend. Power napping could be helpful – this is allowing yourself to rest for 10-20 minutes at some point between 2pm and 4pm. It’s not necessarily sleeping, but simply relaxing with your eyes closed.

“Keeping your blackout blinds closed can make it harder to get out of bed if you’re getting up early to exercise, so keeping the curtains open slightly to allow some natural daylight or, in winter, waking gradually with a light-emitting sunrise alarm clock, could help you to emerge from bed with more bounce.”

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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