How to improve your sleep during times of uncertainty

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 31-year-old fashion merchandiser explains how she is tracking her sleep while trying for a baby.

A little about me:

Age: 31

Occupation: Fashion Merchandiser

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

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

Do you track sleep?  I wear an Ava Fertility Tracker bracelet. It tracks my fertile window by monitoring skin temperature, heart and breathing rate, sleep and variable heart rate while sleeping.

Do you grind your teeth? I clench my jaw, but I do that most of the time anyway.

How much water do you drink on average per day? Two litres of water plus two cups of decaf green tea.

Day 1

At 7.30pm, I have chicken pesto orzo with green veg for dinner while watching a movie, followed by dark chocolate, a multivitamin and a decaf green tea.

At 10pm, I head to bed. First, I spray my pillow with lavender and apply bio oil to my laparoscopy scars (I had endometriosis excised six months ago). Then, I put on my Ava bracelet and set the alarm on it for 6.50am.

I read a couple of pages of an IVF his and hers guide book, before having sex for the second time that day. I’m unexpectedly at peak ovulation and worried we didn’t do it enough!

I’m then ready to go to sleep, but my husband wants to finish watching a movie so it takes me a little longer, maybe half an hour, to get to sleep.

“My Ava Fertility Tracker tracks my fertile window by monitoring things like skin temperature and variable heart rate while I sleep.”

Day 2

I wake up before my alarm and sync my Ava bracelet. It confirms I only got just over 6 hours’ sleep and I feel like I could sleep for longer, so I snooze until 8am. The beauty of working out at home is you can do that whenever you want!

Once I’m up, I make myself a warm water and lemon and do a short cardio barre workout. Suddenly, I realise my team meeting has been changed to 9am, so I quickly shower before catching up with my team. Because of this, I don’t get to eat breakfast until 9.30am, and have eggs and avocado on toast.

At 7pm, I have salmon, noodles and veg for dinner while catching up with my husband. It’s been a busy day and we haven’t seen each other as much as usual. I take my multivitamin before chilling out with some TV.

We get into bed at 9.45pm and read for a bit before having sex and going to sleep at 10.45pm. I fall asleep immediately, with my alarm set for 7.20am.

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Day 3

I sleep well without much waking up. Because my husband gets up to have a personal training session at 7am, I wake before my alarm but I manage to snooze for an hour.

I sync my Ava which says I got 7 hours’ sleep, and I’m quite happy with that. I also look for a temperature increase to show I’ve ovulated. I feel like I have but the temperature increase is minimal at 0.05ºC, which has me worried.

I make a warm water and lemon and start some work at 8am. I have a big meeting this afternoon and still need to finalise some bits. Then, at 9.30am, my husband and I eat a breakfast together of eggs and avocado on toast.

“I check my tracker to show I’ve ovulated. My body temperature increase is minimal, which has me worried.”

At 6.15pm, I do a strength exercise class and then shower, which means we don’t get to eat dinner until 8.30pm – later than we’d like! We have gobble pie (turkey mince and sweet potato with veggies) while watching TV.

I get into bed at 10pm, apply bio oil and spray my pillow with lavender. I read my book for a bit before having sex again, and I fall asleep pretty much straight after.

Day 4

My husband’s alarm wakes me around 6.30am. We snooze for a bit before I have a decaf green tea and do a yoga class at 7.45am. I feel tired and not into the class at all but stick at it.

I shower and check on the status of flowers for my best friend. Today would have been her due date but she had a termination for medical reasons. It’s so tough not being able to be with her during this time.

Fortunately, the flowers are on track – perfect. I then make eggs and avocado on toast for breakfast at 9am.

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Work is still quite hectic, with back-to-back meetings, but I manage to get some fresh air at the end of the day before an open evening with a fertility clinic. They spend an hour speaking to us one-on-one and we really like them. Assuming I’m not pregnant in the next couple of weeks, we’re going to start IVF with them, which is exciting!

We have steak, sweet potato and green veg for dinner before watching Married at First Sight Australia (the drama is just brilliant!) We get into bed quite late at 11.30pm.

“Assuming I’m not pregnant in the next couple of weeks, we’re going to start IVF with them, which is exciting!”

Day 5

I have really vivid dreams about doing IVF and getting pregnant, which is a really big deal for me because I don’t normally dream about getting pregnant. I feel like this is a good sign and I’m making peace with the thought of IVF.

Although I sleep quite well, I definitely feel like I could sleep longer and wake up just before my alarm at 7.15am. I sync my Ava bracelet to check my temperature has risen, which it has.

I go outside for a walk and drop off my Asos return, listening to music (I love Tiana Major9) instead of my usual podcast (Big Fat Negative, which I definitely recommend for anyone facing fertility issues).

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I get back and have my team catch-up, then have some toast, eggs and bacon with my husband at about 9.45am.

I finish work around 6pm and my husband sorts dinner while I make some bread, ready for the morning. We have spinach and ricotta tortellini with salad at 7.30pm.

Then, while he’s watching the football, I decide to check out Bridgerton – and I’m a fan! We then FaceTime my dad as it’s his birthday, and watch a movie before going to bed at 11.30pm.

Bridgerton: Phoebe Dynevor as Daphne Bridgerton and Regé-Jean Page as the Duke of Hastings.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “To be honest, I haven’t a huge amount to say! Your life reads a little like a military operation, with some great habits, good nutrition and exercise, and an apparently lovely, connected relationship with your partner.

All I would add is two things: firstly, good luck with conceiving – I really wish you all the best with this.

Secondly, if I might venture, could you relax into life a wee bit more? These are challenging and lonely times and we all need to dig deep to find our laughs, our little joys in life. 

I wonder if you can invite yourself to relax your jaw (this is a sure sign of holding on tight and really wanting things to go according to plan) and let go a bit.”

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Of course, this is something that is arguably easier said than done. During the pandemic, Every Mind Matters – the mental health campaign launched by Public Health England and the NHS – put together a helpful guide for better sleep, including a short video on reframing unhelpful thoughts and managing worries.

At the same time, Dr Nerina recommends approaching uncertainty with curiosity, citing Susan Jeffers’ book, Embracing Uncertainty. 

“If you’re holding on tight and longing for things to go the way you want them,” she continues, “Jeffers recommends using the words ‘I wonder…’ instead of ‘I hope…’”

So take a deep breath, laugh a bit at life (which is great for the jaw muscles), do the things that are genuinely within your control and then let the wisdom of the body do its work. Good luck!”

Do you suffer from anxiety? You’re not alone. Seek confidential help and support with Mind or the NHS. The NHS can also help with fertility issues, while Mind can provide support for maternal mental health.

If you would like to take part in Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, please email us at [email protected] with ‘SLEEP DIARIES’ as the subject. We look forward to hearing from you.

Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan

Images: Getty/Netflix

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