04/04/2016 17:42 BST | Updated 05/04/2017 06:12 BST

Time to Make Sleep a Priority

Sleep - we all do it, but nearly half of us don't do it well.


Why do half of us not do it well? That figure has always niggled me because if you think it about it, it shouldn't be hard. You should (theoretically) be able to get into bed, close your eyes and succumb to the land of nod for a blissful, uninterrupted eight hours kip. I wish! I think the majority of us can only dream about such a reality.

Sleep is one of the fundamental tools for maintaining good physical and mental health. Without it we're not much good at doing anything else! Did you know that you can survive for three times as long without food as you can without sleep? And yet we continue to squeeze it out of our lifestyles.

Busy, packed lives and worrying about work and finances are keeping us up late, as well as the fact that we're completely over connected - we're reluctant to put down the smartphone or tablet and instead continue to check emails and social networking right up to the minute we want to close our eyes.

Every week another set of people flock to join the gym or embark on another fad diet to improve their health yet the rise in the number of people getting less than six hours sleep continues to grow and is certainly a concern - we need to stop sidelining sleep and start making it a priority.

Research suggests that mental and physical problems become more pronounced in those sleeping for less than six hours. It also diminishes levels of concentration and makes you liable to swings in temper and depression. Lack of sleep also affects our learning and problem solving capabilities. The more REM sleep we have, the easier it is to retain things that were learned the day before. Problems that appear insoluble can become clear in the morning. Long term sleep deprivation is linked to heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's, diabetes and obesity.

So now you know you want to focus on sleeping better, but how do you go about it? Unlike being able to eat more fruit and veg or drag yourself off to the gym three times a week, it's not that easy to suddenly start sleeping better - some people would clearly love to, but don't know how to. However there are some simple changes you can make to your lifestyle to help achieve a better night's sleep.

Regular hours: Keeping regular hours and going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day. This will help to programme the body to sleep better.

Routine: A bedtime routine works as well for adults as it does children. It's important to wind down properly before bed - invest in some 'me time' and switch off gadgets. Think about changing the way you wind down at bedtime - experiment with new ways to relax like warm baths with calming scents, quiet soothing music, reading, gentle stretching and yoga.

Restful environment: Your bedroom should be kept for rest and sleep and it should be neither too hot, nor too cold; and as quiet and dark as possible. Make sure the room is gadget free and your bed is comfortable. It's difficult to get deep, restful sleep on one that's too soft, too hard, too small or too old.

Don't forget to also look at overhauling your diet, caffeine consumption and exercise regime. Small changes can have a huge impact on your sleep quality and quantity. You can also keep a track of your lifestyle and sleep habits by completing a sleep diary. However if you suffer with insomnia or any other sleep disorder though, it's essential you seek appropriate medical help.

Good sleep habits last a lifetime so remember if you want to protect your health - physical and mental - then you need to wake up to the health benefits of sleep.