Always in a sleep deficit? Here’s how to boost your energy levels

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 personal trainer and coach learns how to boost her energy levels while juggling her work and two children.

A little about me:

Age: 44

Occupation: personal trainer and coach

Number of hours’ sleep you get each night: 7 hours (often broken)

Number of hours’ sleep you wish you got each night: 8-9 hours (or less with no interruptions)

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: I sometimes wake up with a tight jaw, particularly during periods of high stress.

How much water you drink on average per day: A couple of litres.

How much caffeine do you drink on average per day: between 1-3 small cups coffee per day, and no caffeine after 11am

How much exercise do you do on average per week: 3-4 45-minute strength training sessions, as well as lots of walking and training clients

Day 1

It’s Tuesday – my busiest day at work, client-wise – so I don’t manage to make it into the gym even though I tried to schedule it in my diary.

I end up working late, so I have dinner around 9:30pm – salmon stir fry and rice with a square of dark chocolate. I always feel energised by work and love what I do, so it takes me a while to switch off after a busy day.

After watching a bit of trash TV and some news headlines, my partner and I head to bed around 10:30pm. I switch off the radio just before 11pm. 

Day 2

I have a little boy who is four and has a lot of additional needs, and he’s been coming into our bed for the last 18 months/two years. He is getting better though, and will sometimes sleep through – this morning, he came in at 6am, and I got up with him.

Once we’re up, I make him his breakfast and make myself a smoothie (my usual breakfast). I also have a coffee and a glass of water.

“Once we’re up, I make my son his breakfast and make myself a smoothie (my usual breakfast). I also have a coffee and a glass of water.”

I’m on bedtime duty tonight (me and my husband take it in turns) so after the kids have eaten dinner, I have to juggle both my son and daughter. It takes a while; my son struggles to switch off, and my daughter isn’t asleep until 9:30pm.

After I’m done with them I’m feeling a bit moody and tired, so have some chicken and broccoli pasta before going to bed around 10:15pm.

My son comes in and wakes me up at 4:30am, but he falls back asleep straight away. I manage to fall asleep again at 5:30am, too.

When it’s light I wake up again, and while I feel like I could start the day, I try to doze. I often end up spending time lying awake worrying about work or my family stuff, so I attempt to do some breathing exercises to try and unwind.

The alarm goes off at 6:30am and I eventually get up at around 7:15am, when I have my usual breakfast of smoothie, coffee and water. 

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Day 3 

My husband is out with friends tonight, so I treat myself to some Selling Sunset while eating breaded fish and salad for dinner.

I get into bed around 10pm, and don’t wake up until 5:30am – later, my husband lets me know I was snoring when he got home.

Once I’m awake, I lay awake with my eyes closed until my radio alarm goes off at 6:45am. After listening to some news, I get up and have my usual breakfast and get both kids ready because my husband left early for the office.

It’s getting towards the end of the week now so I’m feeling tired, and pleased it’s almost the weekend.

“Once I’m awake, I lay awake with my eyes closed until my radio alarm goes off at 6:45am.”

Day 4

Today felt a little bit like a disaster. It took a long time to get my little boy to bed, and then he came into our bed around 3am. It took him until 5am to settle again, after which he slept until around 7am.

I woke up feeling grumpy and tired feeling like I’d already done a days work, but felt better after a shower and some breakfast so decided to head to the gym after the school run.

It’s on days like this that I feel less sociable and energetic so I try to be compassionate towards myself while still being able to work.

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Day 5

I took the kids to London today. We didn’t get back until 8pm so I showered them both, gave them supper and then put them to bed.

My daughter settled well on her own, but it took an hour for my little boy to nod off. Once he falls asleep, I eat a pizza at 10pm and head straight to bed after.

My little boy slept through so I managed to have a lovely sleep until 7:15am. We end up having a super quiet morning – we head out for coffee and pastries with the kids followed by a quick park trip. I definitely felt the need for three coffees by the end of the morning.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You need all the help you can get with your busy and active lifestyle as a PT and mum of two young children. I’m glad that you’re aware of the need for self-compassion.

“How can I help you to find the energy you clearly need so that you’re not living for her weekends and are able to meet the challenges of your life with more enjoyment? Small things can make a big difference and you’ve already got some great habits. I want to know more about your nutrition, as clearly, it’s not entirely meeting your energy needs – you sometimes need up to three morning coffees to get going. Is your smoothie nutrient-rich? It really needs to be.

“You could also probably benefit from eating healthy – again nutrient-rich – snacks during the day that include protein, fat and carbohydrate. Small snacks of around 200 calories or so between meals will help to keep you going – e.g. half an avocado and some oat cakes, or a piece of cheese and an apple.”

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “Do you really need to know the time when you’re woken during the night by the kids? It really won’t help you to get back to sleep and is more likely to keep you fixated on how much sleep you’re not getting.

“When you’re woken, you need to try to stay as relaxed as possible, focus on calm, nose breathing and settle yourself and your child back to sleep. I suspect you snore when you’re exhausted and more nose (and less mouth) breathing during the day could really help this and your energy levels. For more on this, check out Patrick McKeown’s interview with Rangan Chatterjee on nasal breathing and measuring your Bolt score.”

If you would like to take part in Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, please email [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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