“Do I need to give up alcohol if I want to feel more rested?” A sleep expert answers your questions

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 26-year-old PR professional asks how she can improve her sleep without giving up alcohol completely.

A little about me:

Age: 26

Occupation: PR professional

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 5-7 hours

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

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems (insomnia/sleep apnea): I have struggled on and off with insomnia over the past 4 years.

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: I do grind my teeth, but I don’t have nightmares often.

How much water you drink on average per day: 2-3 litres

How much caffeine do you drink on average per day: one coffee in the morning.

How much exercise do you do on average per week: I workout about 2-3 times per week.

Day 1

I’ve had a fairly heavy weekend of drinking because I’ve been celebrating. I missed my meditation sessions that I normally do twice a day, so I’m feeling quite anxious (which is to be expected).

I order a takeaway (chicken ramen) and watch some Friends to try and calm my nerves before having a bath and getting into bed at 9pm, hoping to fall asleep.

I double up on my JSHealth supplements (I take PM+ and Magnesium every night). I toss and turn until 11pm until I finally fall asleep but wake up again at 4am and can’t settle down again.

I feel pretty groggy when I wake up but luckily it’s a bank holiday (and my birthday) so I decide to have a lie in.

“I feel pretty groggy when I wake up but luckily it’s a bank holiday (and my birthday) so I decide to have a lie in.”

Day 2

After a big birthday lunch with one glass of white wine, I decide I don’t want supper as I’ve had a late lunch and I’m not hungry. I have a long hot bath and get ready for bed at 10pm.

I’m dreading the working week looming, and having slept badly the night before, I’m still feeling quite on edge. I take my supplements as usual but don’t fall asleep until around 2am. 

When my alarm goes off at 7am I snooze it until the last possible moment and rush into work, grabbing a coffee and a croissant on the way in.

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Day 3

I get home at 6.30pm, meditate for 20 minutes as usual and then have some avocado on toast and an egg before getting ready for bed. I get into bed at 9pm praying for a good night’s sleep.

I’m still feeling exhausted and slightly overwhelmed by being back in the office and getting my brain back into gear after the holidays. Luckily, I drift off pretty quickly.

I wake naturally at 6.45am, do my meditation, shower and then go into the office. I’m feeling a lot better and have far more energy. For breakfast I have greek yoghurt with blueberries, almond butter and an oat milk flat white. 

“For breakfast I have greek yoghurt with blueberries, almond butter and an oat milk flat white.”

Day 4

I go to a barre class at 5.30pm and then rush to see a friend for a drink. I order a lemonade and some salted almonds. I then go home and eat a prawn curry at 8.30pm and chat to my housemates until around 9.30pm. 

I have a bath and try on some clothes I ordered before brushing my teeth and doing my skincare routine.

I’m really tired by this point but I still have a couple of chores to do. By the time I get into bed, it’s 11.30pm. I take my supplements and fall asleep fairly quickly. 

I wake up to my alarm at 7am, meditate for 20 minutes and then rush off to work. I have an almond cappuccino for breakfast. I don’t feel rested despite sleeping OK.

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Day 5

I finish work at 5pm, go home to change, meditate and shower before going on a first date. We go to a sushi restaurant followed by an art gallery.

I’m quite nervous as I’ve only met him once before so I drink more than I usually would and have two cigarettes (which I don’t normally do either). We share a bottle of wine over dinner and I have a cocktail after dinner. I don’t eat much.

When I get home, I pass out pretty quickly and forget to take my supplements. Unsurprisingly I wake up with a bit of a headache and a dry mouth at 4am. I don’t go back to sleep. I’m not feeling my best so I head into work and get myself a coffee and something stodgy from Pret. Thank goodness it’s Friday.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You’re young and work in a very sociable profession so it’s not surprising that alcohol figures strongly in your lifestyle even though you do have some good healthy habits. However, you have suffered on and off for years with insomnia and there seem to be some anxiety issues hanging around too.

“Alcohol won’t help you sleep at all. We all have different sensitivities to alcohol but it does affect sleep and more so for some people than others. Alcohol is a sedative so it might help you to fall asleep quicker but because of the impact on the liver, it then wakes you up in the early hours feeling dehydrated, hot and unable to get back to sleep. It also reduces the amount of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and increases deep sleep so you feel tired and mentally unfocused the next day.”

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “I don’t want to be a killjoy, but it is important to understand how alcohol affects you and what you have lined up for the next day. If you want to be on form, it may be best to avoid drinking the night before any important event. 

“Avoid drinking on an empty stomach and keep up your water intake while downing your drinks. To some extent, this will help minimise the dehydration effect, but at the end of the day, you might be someone who just doesn’t get away with it.”

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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