Today’s topic affects us all. We have to do it. We want to do it. Yet it’s something that can easily be disrupted, leaving us miserable and lacking in energy. That “something” is sleep.

If you remember the 1980s, you’ll recall the prevailing attitude of the time which was that sleep was for wimps.

This was largely due to certain politicians. But many of us bought into it and became reluctant to “waste” precious hours in resting when we could be working.

I remember one broadcasting colleague who prided himself on how he could keep going despite getting virtually no shuteye at all.

He often looked terrible but if I expressed concern, he shrugged and said: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”.

But the belief back then, that if you were tough enough it did you no harm to go without sleep, has now been discredited by medics and scientists, and we now know that it’s crucial for our physical and mental health and performance.

So much so, that various national sports teams have been encouraging their athletes to sleep for 10 hours a night, which is said to yield better results in competitions.

As we’re not elite sportspeople we’re probably never going to sleep for 10 hours but it’s clear that if we want to be well in body and mind, we need to take our sleep requirement seriously.

Various studies show that even one night of sleeplessness is damaging and that its effects on us are akin to mild drunkenness – meaning we’re more clumsy, slower and less careful and co-ordinated, and should think twice before driving or using powered gadgets in the garden.

More regular insomnia, not surprisingly, is even worse for us and is believed to increase our chances of being obese, having mental health problems, or developing type 2 diabetes, or high blood pressure.

Unfortunately though, with the passing years, sleep tends to become more elusive.

This is now a well-documented feature of ageing.  

Often, it’s hard to nod off. Also, we don’t sleep as deeply as we used to, which means we wake if there’s too much light, or we’re too hot or cold, or if there’s noise outside.

Also, most of us have weaker bladders these days and have to get up in the night. And some men and women also have chronic pain that disturbs them.     

So, we’re fighting quite a battle in the quest for good quality slumber. But it’s important that we listen to the experts about prioritising it and take their advice that we should aim for eight hours a night.  

This target might seem like a forlorn dream but with some practical adjustments, we may get nearer it, and I believe we should try.

Many individuals, for example, would sleep better if their bedrooms were darker.

New curtains or blinds are not cheap, I know, but they’re definitely worth the investment.

After all, we have light early mornings for four or five months in the year. If you do nothing else, do at least use a good eye mask to blot out sunlight.  

We also need to get the temperature right in the bedroom. Alas, with age many of us find our own body temperatures fluctuate more than they did, which makes achieving comfort in the bedroom doubly difficult.

Choice of bed cover is important too. Most younger people I know use a 10.5 tog duvet all year round.

Those days have long gone for me, and I need a range of different bedding to cope with seasonal changes. Let’s face it, no one of our age sleeps well if they’re chilly or overheated.

I’ve also taken note of the most common strategies recommended by top experts.  

They say we should:  

  • Have a hot bath at the end of the day;
  • Avoid screen use for an hour before bed;
  • Listen to soft, soothing music;
  • Browse through a holiday brochure or a recipe book rather than get stuck into a complicated novel which may keep us awake or haunt our dreams.                                                                                        The other tactic I’ve tried, is to experiment with different bedtimes, because I came to realise that I was sleeping less than I felt I needed.  

Having been a night owl for decades, I was amazed to find that I achieve the best night’s sleep if I start preparing for bed around 9 and put my light out around 10.

Obviously, this isn’t possible on the evenings when I go out. However, I stick to it the rest of the time, even though it means I’m often in bed earlier than my husband and I used to eat dinner.   

But the bonus is that it matters less if I wake early now, because I’ve already banked sufficient sleep. And I get more tasks done in the mornings too.

When I was a teenager, my old grandad, who had a vast repertoire of folky sayings, used to claim: “An hour before midnight is worth two after”.

With the arrogance of youth, I ignored him, and probably indulged in a bit of eye-rolling too. Now, I realise he was right. Who’d have thought it?