“My vivid dreams leave me feeling exhausted – is there anything I can do to stop them?”

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 27-year-old business founder learns about a technique she can use to get her vivid dreams under control. 

A little about me:

Age: 27

Occupation: founder of two businesses 

Number of hours’ sleep you get each night: I get roughly 8-8.5 hours every night. We don’t set alarms anymore unless we have to wake up unusually early, so it’s whenever I wake up!

Number of hours’ sleep you wish you got each night: 8-8.5 hours. I’m happy with the number of hours I get, but more interested about the quality!

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: I have LOTS of very vivid dreams. Because they feel very real, I don’t wake up feeling refreshed or even rested on the nights when I have lots of them. I feel like my brain is still working while I’m sleeping and I can wake up tired from them. Sometimes they’re about mundane everyday stuff, sometimes they’re good and sometimes they’re anxiety-inducing. I often wake up feeling the emotions I experience in the dream and it’s hard to shift. A lot of the time I even know I’m in a dream but can’t wake myself up! I have also noticed that if I’m stressed, I have more vivid dreams.

How much water you drink on average per day:  including herbal teas, around 2 litres on average.

How much caffeine do you drink on average per day: not much – I don’t drink coffee or caffeinated tea, but I do have a very small soda (150ml) maybe 2-3 times a week.

How much exercise do you do on average per week: not enough! I’m currently averaging 8-10k steps a day, and I urgently need to go back to the gym.

Day 1

It’s Saturday and we’re out this evening. Today I’ve met a friend for brunch, stayed at home in the afternoon catching up on work and life admin, and tonight we’re going to a comedy show.

I have a drink (rum + ginger beer) at the theatre and afterwards, as it’s late and not many restaurants are still taking tables, we head to Nandos for a quick bite to eat before going home. I have a chicken burger and fries, with a small coke.

We get home at roughly 11pm, watch a bit of TV and are in bed by 11:30pm. It’s been a nice weekend so far, so I’m feeling happy and relaxed.

My partner and I always go to sleep by putting an old episode on and falling asleep to it. I know it goes against the usual no-tech rule of sleep hygiene, but this really helps me tune out the outside world and stop my brain from overthinking. Tonight, I put an old episode of The Office US on and fall asleep in about 10 minutes.

“Today I’ve met a friend for brunch, stayed at home in the afternoon catching up on work and life admin, and tonight we’re going to a comedy show.”

Day 2

I sleep through the night and wake up naturally at 8:30am. I didn’t have any vivid dreams last night which is great, so I’ve woken up feeling rested. I have (lactose-free) yogurt, granola and strawberries for breakfast, around 10am.

It’s Sunday and it’s a bit of a lazy day for me, pottering around the house, catching up on work (I run my own business so my work hours are all over the place, and while I might work on weekends, I also took last Monday and Friday off for no real reason!) and watching TV/reading.

I have leftover Indian food for dinner at around 8:30pm and as it’s a Sunday, we try to have an early night by getting into bed around 9:45pm and reading for 40 minutes or so. When I’m sleepy, I put on an old episode of The Office US and fall asleep within 5 minutes.

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Day 3 

I wake up feeling quite sleepy today, so when I wake up naturally at 6:50am I tell myself I’m going to close my eyes for another 10-15 minutes and wake up at 7ish. However, when I open my eyes back up its 7:50am, so I probably needed the extra hour.

I had lots of vivid dreams last night, so it takes me a while to wake up and stop thinking about them. They’re about everyday stuff (not magical/what you usually think of dreams in any way) so it’s hard to tune them out. It takes me a long time to feel properly awake, but I go straight to my home-office desk and start by scrolling the internet to help me wake up and then move on to work bits straight away.

We have lasagne, (air-fried) chips and salad for dinner at around 8pm, after going to the gym and doing a 30-minute run on the treadmill and some leg exercises. I shower, wash my hair, do my skincare routine and we’re in bed by 9:30pm. We read for 30-45 minutes and I’m asleep by 11pm.

“I shower, wash my hair, do my skincare routine and we’re in bed by 9:30pm. We read for 30-45 minutes and I’m asleep by 11pm.”

Day 4

I wake up naturally feeling refreshed at 7:15am. I’m going to the office today so I do some admin around the house and get ready before heading to the post office and reaching my desk by 9am. I skip breakfast and don’t end up eating until lunch at 12:30pm.

I get home at around 7:45pm after walking half the way home to get my steps in (and taking the bus for the rest of the commute home) and order Deliveroo (veggie burrito with guacamole) as I’m tired after a day at the office. I feel like I’ve had lots of energy today which feels amazing.

I crash into bed at around 10:30pm but really struggle to get to sleep. My boyfriend has a cold and isn’t sleeping well, getting up in the middle of the night to take medicine. In turn, I don’t sleep very well either, waking up lots of times and having really vivid dreams.

As I’m not sleeping well, and my dreams are of everyday things, it’s hard to differentiate my dreams between reality, so while it feels like my mind my boyfriend has gotten out of bed 5-6 times in the middle of the night, it’s more likely to only be two.

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Day 5

I wake up at 8:45am feeling knackered and not well-rested at all. However, I force myself out of bed and make it to my home desk by 9am to start work. I have a (lactose-free) yogurt and granola for breakfast at 9:45am.

At lunchtime, we find out my boyfriend actually has covid (do people even get Covid anymore? Ha) which explains the rough night. My test is negative, but I cancel my evening plans just in case.

We have steak and ale pie with mash and vegetables for dinner at around 8pm before watching some Netflix and getting into bed around 10pm after doing my night skincare routine. We spend some time on our phones chatting with an episode of The Office US on in the background. I’m asleep before 11pm.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “You have a good level of awareness and some good habits – you drink minimal caffeine, are fairly active and your hydration habit is so-so. I like that you don’t wake up with an alarm and listen to your body, but you might need to be aware of over-sleeping. Sleeping deeply past about 8am can cause some sleep inertia – a sluggishness and lethargy caused by too much sleep in the morning.

“You have vivid dreams which you remember, and they’re often related to mundane, everyday stuff. We dream for all sorts of reasons – to make sense of stressful events and emotions, to pack away the information of the day and creative dreams. I suspect you’re having all three types of dreams. Some of this can be caused by watching TV in bed to fall asleep. I understand that you do this to distract your overthinking mind, but I wonder if you can experiment with white noise?”

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “It would also be helpful for you to practice some form of meditation or breathwork to help you calm your mind at night. Doing some sort of brain dump before getting into bed might also be helpful – at its simplest, writing lists. You run two businesses so your ‘have to do’s’ could be causing some of these dreams.

“Capturing those dreams first thing in the morning in a journal can also be a very helpful practice – this will lessen their intensity and may even lead you to uncover some creative gems that might be lurking in your subconscious. I recommend Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for guidance on dream journaling via the process of writing Morning Pages. Good luck!”

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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