“I wake up with a tension headache every day – what can I do to help?”

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 43-year-old relationship therapist asks how she can better manage her extreme teeth grinding at night.

A little about me:

Age: 43

Occupation: relationship therapist

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 4-8 hours

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: 8/9 hours

Do you grind your teeth/have nightmares: I have a huge problem with grinding my teeth. I take Anadin most mornings when I wake up to help with the tension pain/headaches around my temples, forehead, and jaw. When I was in my teens I had six teeth removed from the back of my mouth which, coupled with my teeth grinding, has led me to develop a slipped disc in my jaw. My jaw will randomly lock at the most inconvenient times (during client sessions and Instagram lives, etc) and I have to discreetly pop it back in place. Botox has helped, but it usually only lasts around six to eight weeks and 12 weeks is required between top-ups. Mouthguards don’t help because I bite down so hard on them that by the morning time it feels like the pain is so much worse.

Do you measure your sleep in some way (e.g. using your phone or wearable): phone

How much water you drink on average per day: 1-2 litres

How much caffeine do you drink on average per day: 5-6 cups of tea/coffee

How much exercise you do on average per week: around 2-3 hours

Day 1

I eat risotto for dinner around 5.30pm with a glass of wine, and then continue working until 8pm.I snack on some crisps and a chocolate bar and watch some TV before having a bath at 9pm for 30 minutes while listening to a podcast.

After that I get ready for bed and attempt to read a book but I can’t calm my mind and end up getting distracted. I have a milky cup of tea and two biscuits at 10.30pm and then scroll on my phone with the TV on in the background. I fall asleep around 11.30pm.

I wake up at 1.50am and realise that my 18 year old is still not home so I text her to see where she is. She replies pretty quickly which gives me some peace of mind and I’m able to get back to sleep within 10/15 minutes.

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My phone rings at 3.50am – it’s my daughter who can’t find her keys to open the door. I get up and let her in, and it takes around 20 minutes or so for me to get back to sleep.

I wake up again at 7.30am. I feel like my head has been in a vice all night, and have tension in my temples and forehead. I take two tablets to help ease it and then shower, do my make up, have a cup of tea and toast and then out early to run errands.

Day 2

I have salmon and pasta for dinner with a glass of wine around 7pm. I planned to stay up and watch the Anthony Joshua fight, but I’m feeling exhausted and nod off on the sofa at about 10:30pm so decide to go up to bed.

I fall asleep around 10:45pm. My 18-year-old is working in a local bar tonight so she gets home around 12:30pm, and I wake up to her noise banging around the house when she gets back. Oddly it gives me peace of mind because I know where she is, so I drift off back to sleep pretty quickly.

I wake up at 7:30am with a tension headache and an achy jaw, but overall I feel like I had an OK sleep. 

“I wake up at 7:30am with a tension headache and an achy jaw.”

Day 3

It’s my Mum’s birthday so I get on the train to Manchester at 5:30pm and meet up with family. We have a couple of drinks in a pub and then head on to a Japanese restaurant where they cook the food in front of you – I was shocked at the amount of salt the chef was using!

We leave the restaurant at 9pm and stop at the pub again for a night cap before heading home. I arrive back around 10:30pm and I’m in bed for 11pm. I fall asleep around 11:30pm.

I wake up a couple of times in the night feeling thirsty, but I don’t stay awake for long. I wake up properly at 7am and hit snooze a couple of times before getting out of bed at 7:50am. I take an Anadin, have a shower, eat breakfast and drink a pint of water before leaving for work around 9:30am.

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Day 4

I get home from work around 5pm and start by making dinner. Once I’m done I get my laptop on and carry on working until 7pm, when I attend an online webinar.

The webinar leaves my head buzzing all night with ideas about building my business, so I have a bath at 10pm before heading to bed at 11pm.

My mind is still active and I end up having really disturbed sleep all night as a result – I wake up at least four times during the night.

I wake up properly at 6am but stay in bed until 7am. I have a tension headache as usual but I’m full of enthusiasm after last night’s webinar and raring to get to the office. 

I take two pain tablets, have a shower, and enjoy a cup of tea and toast alongside a freshly juiced pint glass of oranges, apples and carrots to give me a vitamin C burst and detox from some of the alcohol and junk food over the weekend. I start my work day at 9:30am.

“I enjoy a cup of tea and toast alongside a freshly juiced pint glass of oranges, apples and carrots.”

Day 5

I make chicken, potatoes and sweetcorn for dinner around 6:30pm. My head has felt hazy all day from brain fog and feeling tired. One of today’s sessions was also very intense, so I’ve got a lot playing on my mind. I head out for a 30 minute walkm with the dog around 8pm.

I have a bath at 9:30pm, during which I watch some TV while scrolling on my phone. I head up to bed and switch the lights off at 11:15pm and fall straight asleep.

I sleep through the night and wake up when my alarm goes off at 7am. I get straight up, and while I have the usual tenseness around my head and jaw, I don’t feel like I need any tablets.

I have a cup of tea and toast with a pint glass of pear, apple and orange juice before leaving for work at 9am.

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

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “What immediately comes to mind when reading your diary is ‘physician heal thyself’. You could be heading into those tricky years with a teenager, be experiencing hormonal changes and dealing with a professional life that’s intense and demanding. Where is your support coming from?

“Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is often caused by stress, especially when it is as extreme as yours. Perfectionism and being hard on yourself also doesn’t help. What are you doing to relieve your stress? I don’t see any evidence of exercise – this would really help to lower levels of the stress hormones that send you to bed clenching your jaw. Some form of relaxation technique such as relaxing yoga or pilates with an emphasis on gentle breathing could also help.”

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “I feel that the word ‘gentle’ is particularly relevant for you, especially if you are heading into those tender years of perimenopause and menopause. On that note, I recommend you get your hormone levels checked by a well-informed medical practitioner who can advise her on hormone replacement or natural supplements to support this phase of your life if needed. In the meantime, tighten up the self-care please, and good luck with it!”

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

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