sleep healthWe spend around one third of our lives catching some Zs. But as our busy lifestyles get in the way, many of us choose to forego a good night's sleep - with significant consequences.

According to the NHS, over 30% of the population suffer from sleep problems, and whilst getting a solid eight hours can seem almost impossible to some, medical research suggests that it can be crucial to reducing the risk of physiological and psychological problems.

Why is getting enough sleep so important?

While our busy working lives prevent us from hitting snooze more times than we’d like to, getting a good night’s sleep unlocks a number of health benefits.

The most obvious benefit of getting more sleep is the endless amounts of energy it unlocks, getting a good eight hours gives individuals of all ages the fuel to start their working day or complete that demanding workout. An NHS study revealed that nearly 95% of people with sleeping issues have low energy levels, compared with 40% of those who do get enough sleep.

As well as physical performance, sleep deprivation also affects mental performance and over 75% of people not classed as ‘good sleepers’ experienced poor concentration. In addition to banishing those dark circles under the eyes, sleep also boosts mood, improves memory and lowers the risk of depression and anxiety.

How does sleep affect your quality of life?

A 2010 study revealed that sleep plays a major role in preserving your quality of life. as more deaths occurred in women who got less than five hours of sleep per night so forget the fountain of youth, turn back the clock with an early night. Those who experienced 'regular' sleep patterns in conjunction with their circadian rhythm (inbuilt body clock) were found to:

- Have fewer health issues such as cardiovascular disease

- Have fewer weight issues

- Have a reduced chance of Alzheimer's disease in later life

- Be less susceptible to addictions such as smoking, drugs or alcohol

How much sleep do you really need?

The amount of sleep you need varies depending on your age. Newborn babies can require as much as 17 hours sleep a day, while children can need as much as 12 hours up until their teenage years. As adults, the optimum period for sleep relies on how swiftly an individual transitions through the sleep cycle and achieves the required levels of both REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM sleep. While there are famous examples of adults comfortably getting by on just 4 hours sleep - Napoleon and Margaret Thatcher to name just two - the vast majority of us need a solid 7-9 hours of good sleep.

The golden rules for a great night’s slumber

Learning how to sleep better is an important step, and passing these values onto your children and your children’s children will promote positive health and well-being across all generations. Here are our top tips:

- Keep a good routine

- Avoid alcohol before bedtime

- Ditch the TV and mobile devices before bed

- Avoid caffeine in the evening

- Exercise regularly - but not right before hitting the sack

- Maintain a healthy, balanced diet

- Keep it dark in the bedroom

- Maintain a cool (but not cold) environment

- Sleep on the most comfortable bed you can afford.