This simple technique could help you stop overthinking at night for good

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 40-year-old freelance web designer and business owner finds out how to stop herself from overthinking when she’s in bed.

A little about me:

Age: 40

Occupation: freelance web designer and small product business owner

Number of hours’ sleep you get each night: 5-9 hours

Number of hours’ sleep you wish you got each night: 8 hours (uninterrupted)

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems (insomnia/sleep apnea): no, but I do struggle with insomnia and overthinking during the night.

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: I grind my teeth.

How much water you drink on average per day: 2-4 litres

How much caffeine do you drink on average per day: 2 cups of coffee before 10.30am and a tea about 2pm

How much exercise you do on average per week: no dedicated exercise, but I spend most of my days running around after three children.

Day 1

Everyone in the family woke up late this morning so I have to run around to get everyone where they need to be for 8:45am. I have two coffees and cereal with soya milk for breakfast.

Come evening time, I get the kids into bed for 7:45pm, before making some vegetable risotto followed by ice cream straight from the tub. I fall asleep on the sofa watching TV about 10pm, and wake up at 11:30pm before heading up to bed.

I can’t sleep once I’m there, however, so I go on my phone and scroll through social media for about an hour. At 12:30am my two-year-old comes in and sits on top of me – unsurprisingly, I struggle to sleep with her in the bed as she wiggles and grabs at me, so I get up for a toilet break.

I eventually manage to fall asleep about 2:30am, but I wake myself up by throwing my phone across the room at 3am – I fell asleep watching something about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and woke up trying to knock the head off of a zombie.

I finally fall asleep despite my room being very bright (there’s a street light right outside and our curtains don’t fit at all) and my husband snoring.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Sarah Michelle Gellar is starring in new Paramount+ series Wolf Pack.

Day 2

I wake up at 7am after a busy night with my two-year-old. I have a shower and get dressed before having two coffees and making breakfast for all of us. I do the school run and book swimming for a trip out that afternoon.

I’m so tired after swimming (thanks in part to last night’s fun with my daughter) that I spend the rest of the afternoon watching a film before eating dinner with the family at 5pm – pasta.

I put the kids to bed at 8pm and then collapse on the sofa to watch TV, do some last-minute panicked socials posts for both businesses, and write a to-do list for the following day.

Tuesday nights are a little overwhelming as I have childcare for the next two days and have to get everything I need to do for the week done. Tonight I feel quite jumpy and stressed so can’t settle – I watch some TV, do some work and finally head to bed about 11:45pm.

I get to sleep quite quickly, but I’m woken by my nightly visitor at about 2am. As a result, I head to the toilet and then climb into my daughter’s bed – my partner has the superpower to sleep through the disruptions. I stare at my phone a bit but fall asleep relatively quickly because it’s so much darker in her room than it is in ours.

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Day 3 

The older two kids wake me up at 6am fighting over something, so I stay there for an hour before finally getting up. I shower and get dressed straight away before heading downstairs for breakfast and packing everything my youngest needs for the childminder. I also sort the older two out – everything needs saying 500 times because no one listens.

I drink my first cup of coffee before taking them to school and then have a second cup when I get home. I also have some toast and sit down to work on my ever-growing to-do list.

I pick the kids up at 5:45pm from their after school club before collecting my daughter from the childminder around 6:30pm. I manage to get them all in bed for 8:15pm, after which I head downstairs to have dinner on the sofa – vegetable risotto leftovers. Once I’m done I try to do some work, but I’m so tired I can’t stay awake and end up dozing on the sofa.

I eventually force myself upstairs around 10:30pm and fall asleep almost immediately, but I’m woken up again when my partner comes to bed around midnight – I’m a light sleeper, and he starts snoring almost straight away.

I struggle to get back to sleep because Thursday is another childcare day and even though I got through a lot today, I’m still worried about fitting everything in.

Watching TV before bed

Day 4

I’m woken up by the two-year-old at 6:30am, which feels like a small victory. Once I’m awake I get up, have a shower and eat breakfast before getting the childminder bag ready, feeding the kids, and dropping them off. I have toast and coffee once I’m back and sit down to get on with my day.

After work I have a one hour round trip to collect my youngest from the childminder, so I head out early and get back at 5:30pm. I also pop out to pick the older two up from a school club, before we all sit down for a picky tea followed by a bath.

My partner is delayed at work tonight so I try to put my youngest to bed first, before discovering that she’s napped at the childminder’s so won’t sleep. I sit in the dark in her room with her while the other two kids steadily get louder, but when I try to go and do their bedtime my youngest screams. However, after an hour of back and forth with various children, I finally get to enjoy a glass of wine in silence.

I try to post some social content for my businesses but after some stress decide I can’t. When my partner gets home at 9:15pm I realise I haven’t eaten or prepared dinner so I eat a massive bowl of pasta before going to bed – not a very successful evening overall.

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Day 5

I’m woken up at 7am by the sound of a skip being picked up from the front of our house. There’s no two-year-old in sight, however, which means I’ve finally managed to have a full night’s sleep. I’m feeling much better and rested as a result.

I have a day planned with my youngest today, so I get the older two breakfasted before taking them to school (my partner is working from home) and going on a quick walk to clear my head. I have toast, coffee and a banana when I get back.

I pick the kids up from school at 3:15pm and head to a playdate with another grown up which always makes for an easier, calmer post-school time.

We eat pizza for dinner before my partner heads out for the evening, which means bedtime is my responsibility again. However, they all go down very easily without any stress, so I get some time to binge-watch TV until 10:30pm when I head up to bed.

Once I’m curled up I scroll on my phone, drink lots of water, and then fall asleep. I end up needing a couple of toilet breaks during the night, and when my two-year-old pays me a visit, I go and sleep in her bed while she sleeps in mine.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You apparently can’t switch your brain off at night and grind your teeth, which are both indications of an overly busy lifestyle with not enough downtime during the day and an overstimulated nervous system.I’m not surprised – you have three young children and a busy professional life as well as trying to get your own business off the ground. 

Clearly, you need help.I know you need the energy to get the day started but loading up on coffee first thing isn’t helping your nervous system.You need to get prepared and have a more substantial protein and fat-rich breakfast first thing – maybe try making some overnight oats the night before so it’s easy to eat while getting the kids ready.Stop falling asleep in front of the TV in the evening: this won’t help your sleep. 

And when you wake during the night, accept that it’s going to happen (and it’s totally normal to wake during the night) and don’t check the time – this is waking you up too fully and setting your mind off.”

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “When you settle back into bed (yours or your daughter’s) use the BOX breathing method to calm your mind and guide you back into your body.”

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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