Are you getting enough sleep?

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1. Early to bed, early to rise

We’re all familiar with the old proverb "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise". But since the advent of electricity, the amount of sleep we are getting has been in steady decline.

We spend nearly a third of our lives asleep but how much sleep an individual takes and actually needs can vary greatly.

Da Vinci, Edison, Napoleon and Margaret Thatcher all survived on less than four hours a night but many of us aren't getting enough shut-eye to function properly.

2. Your sleep cycle in 25 seconds

Sleep is our body’s way of maintaining important cognitive skills such as speech, memory and thinking.

While asleep you move through a series of sleep phases lasting 90-120 mins. Each cycle consists of light sleep, deep sleep and a dream state known as REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) which allow our brains to digest and process information.

A shift in cultural attitudes, coupled with an on-demand 24/7 lifestyle and technology at our fingertips has changed the way we view sleep. It's now seen as something we can do without and skipping it has become the norm. The problem is sleep isn't optional, it's a crucial biological function, and more than 28 million people in Britain are believed to be sleep deprived.

3. What's keeping you awake?

Click on the highlighted images to find out how certain objects in your home can affect your sleep.

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4. Five sleepy facts

Here are five things you may not know that hopefully won't keep you awake at night worrying.

  1. The longest period without sleep is 11 days and 11 nights, set by Northumbrian Tony Wright in 2007 who survives on just two to three hours' sleep.
  2. Mums whose babies sleep badly are at greater risk of post-natal depression, so topping up with naps when you can is important.
  3. Older people sleep less deeply and tend to wake after four hours. Newborn babies need around 17 hours' sleep, teenagers a good nine hours.
  4. Lack of sleep has been attributed to several high-profile disasters including Exxon Valdez, Chernobyl and the space shuttle Challenger explosion.
  5. By the time you're nodding off in your car you've already been asleep multiple times at the wheel for two to three seconds.

5. Catching 40 winks

In many cultures an afternoon nap or siesta is a way of life and the health benefits are impressive with increased stamina, reduced heart disease, improved mental ability and better moods.

Studies have shown that a one hour nap can actually improve our mental alertness by up to 10 hours.

So the next time you're being chastised for nodding off, remember this – some of the world's greatest minds have been advocates of the power nap – including Leonardo da Vinci who is said to have taken a 20 minute nap every four hours.

Lots of mammals sleep irregularly throughout the day too, it's just us humans that choose to sleep in large chunks throughout the night.

We're actually pre-programmed to sleep twice a day with our perfect nap zones around 2am and 2pm which explains why we're often tired after lunch, especially after eating carbohydrates which contain tryptophan that can make us drowsy.

6. Grabbing an extra hour's sleep

Gabriel Weston meets volunteers taking part in a sleep experiment to find out if having an extra hour's sleep each night can really make a difference to a person's health.

Blood test results showed that several hundred genes changed in the amount to which they were being used. Some of those being used much more were associated with problems like heart disease, cancer rates, and type 2 diabetes.

So, getting closer to eight hours of sleep a night can make a huge difference to your health in just a few days and potentially be even more beneficial than hitting the gym. Remember, if you're feeling sleepy during the day it's your body's way of telling you that you need more sleep.