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So how much sleep do you really need?

As new research shows that a lack of slumber can lead to bad health and even premature death, Helen Carson meets four local celebrities with busy working lives and asks them about their sleeping habits.

Getting a good night's sleep is something most of us take for granted, yet a new survey has revealed how missing out on a long blissful slumber could be putting our health at risk - particularly if you are over 40.

Medical experts warn that not getting enough of your daily night-time dose of shut-eye can increase the chances of suffering major illnesses and potentially life-threatening conditions such as heart attack, diabetes, stroke and obesity. Making a few lifestyle changes, though, such as taking exercise, cutting down on alcohol and stubbing out cigarettes - as well as bedding down earlier for the night - can help you live a longer and healthier life.

Whether you are a night owl or rise with the lark, the latest findings from a major UK public health report says getting more sleep is now a major contributory factor to health for 40-somethings plus - and they want this message to be taken as seriously as the warning about smoking and drinking.

The report, carried out by the University of Warwick, says more sleep leads to a longer and more active life and the campaign will target 40 to 60-year-olds in a bid to encourage them to address any sleep disorder issues.

But with Smartphones and tablets now commonplace in bedrooms and a rise in shift work, it seems resting your weary head has never been harder. With the UK average of just under seven hours sleep a night, doctors are concerned many of us simply are not getting enough rest at bedtime, which should be an hour a night more.

The majority of us (33%) manage to get five to six hours of sleep a night, while just one per cent get over nine hours in bed. The report has revealed a correlation between better health and more sleep, with those who are regularly sleep deprived - clocking up less than six hours a night - 12% more likely to die prematurely.

The Sleep Council has also warned about the dangers a lack of sleep can expose us too, adding: "Sleeplessness leads to hallucinations and sensory dysfunction - it can lead to mental meltdown," says Lisa Artis.

We talk to four local personalties about their sleeping habits - and find out how they make sure they are getting enough shut-eye.

Conor Bradford, Good Morning Ulster presenter, Radio Ulster, lives just outside Killinchy. He says:

Having presented Good Morning Ulster for many years now, my body has become accustomed to working shifts so I have quite an unusual sleep pattern.

When I'm working I will go to bed the night before at 9.30pm and my alarm goes off at 4.30am. I have three alarms in my bedroom - two mobile phones and one clock - as I want to make sure I don't sleep in because it is easily done. If I were to sleep in, I'd get a telephone call from the office - there would definitely be someone looking for me.

Getting up so early is hellish in the winter as it is dark in the morning and there is no one about, but it is very different in the summer months when it is a lot easier. The big advantage of such an early start is that I can drive from my door in North Down to the BBC in Belfast in 25 minutes as there is no traffic on the road.

I have read many surveys which have said a lack of sleep takes years off your life - and if I believed them, then the Grim Reaper will be coming for me soon.

If I don't get a good sleep for several nights in a row, then I will feel gloomy about life - everything seems grey - but all I need is a restful sleep.

I do sometimes struggle to get over to sleep, especially if I'm just back from a holiday and I am working the next day. Working the way I do, though, is just part and parcel of my job and I accept that. An early start does mean I often finish at lunchtime so I am free for the rest of the day - it's swings and roundabouts."

Beth Robinson (58), partner at Templeton Robinson estate agents, lives in south Belfast with her husband David. She says:

I would describe myself as a light sleeper, and I often feel that I don't get enough sleep.

On average I will work up to 11 hours a day, starting at 8.30am, though I often work up to 60 hours a week. The job I do is stressful - just as moving house is one of the top three most stressful things anyone will ever do.

In my job I carry the concerns for the vendor in terms of getting a deal across the line for them and completing the sale.

As a partner I am selling properties as well as running the company, which has five offices.

I am full of good intentions when it comes to going to bed early - I start getting ready for bed at 10pm, but realistically it is 11pm or 11.30pm before I get there. I spend this time thinking about what my plan is for the next day at work as well as doing all those household chores that need to be done before bedtime. I think 'I'll just do this now' - but it always takes longer than it should do. I probably get a better night's sleep than I imagine I do, and all the things that keep me awake at night are nearly always resolved very simply the next day.

I get up every morning at 7.30 - admittedly I am not a morning person, not one for chatting.

I get dressed and don't have any breakfast - it's straight into the office. I used to get up very early and go for a swim before work when I was in my thirties and forties, but I found it made me more stressed having to do it, so now I don't.

I will head to the gym after work, though, and I do feel better afterwards - it helps me to wind down and takes my mind off any of the day's worries.

If I have had a very stressful day and think that I may not get a good night's sleep, I will have a bath.

I've also started using an app called Mindful, which I read before bed.

It has different tips which can involve an exercise to help you relax and drift off to sleep.

Most of the time I do get enough sleep, and there is nothing better than waking up in the morning having had seven to eight hours of sleep - you are ready to take on the world.

That is a fantastic feeling and I would like a bit more of that."

Denise Watson (43), freelance broadcaster at UTV/U105, lives in Lisburn with her husband, David, and their daughters Samantha (11) and Elizabeth (6). She says:

I have worked shift hours all my career and there is no doubt you sacrifice sleep. The arrival of my two daughters also impacted on how much shuteye I got.

Before the girls were born I would lie in my bed until 10.30am at the weekend, but when you have children your world is turned upside down.

I present a Saturday morning sports slot with Stephen Woods for U105 so I get up at 5.30am - I rarely stay up later than 11.30pm the night before which means I only get about five hours sleep. I do have my phone in our bedroom because I need the alarm to wake me up, and I have the alarm on my husband's phone set too.

Because I only do this twice a week, you can get away with not going to bed a lot earlier. I don't know how breakfast DJs who are up before dawn every day do it.

Having children, though, was the greatest shock to my system. You are at the beck and call of a baby and both our girls woke up every three hours - so at midnight, 3am and 6am they needed to be fed. For the first few months of motherhood, I felt totally drained all of the time.

The biggest thing about becoming a parent for me was losing so much sleep because you cannot do without it. Now the girls are older I get up at 8am and do the school run before starting work at 9.30am, but I nearly always have to go home to pick up something the girls need for school.

I can understand how sleep deprivation can be bad for you. Before my children were born I worked for Radio 1 in London and had to be there for the Breakfast Show meeting at 6.30am, leaving home one-and-a-half hours before for my commute.

I didn't get home until 8.30pm and would find myself flagging around 4-5pm when I would have an energy drink to keep me going, but it just made me feel worse.

I can imagine how that situation could escalate into energy drinks to keep you awake and then tablets or alcohol to help you get off to sleep - not that I ever did that.

I still need a coffee first thing in the morning, I haven't managed to give that up, but it's easy to see how lack of sleep could make you ill.

I only worked this way for three months, but there are people who work and live like this for years - I know I couldn't do it."

Danny Millar (43) is chef director at Balloo Inns, which has three pubs. He lives in Lisbane, just outside Comber, and has a 16-year-old daughter, Jessica. He says:

I never go straight to bed when I finish work, which is usually about 11.30pm during the week. When I get home I will have a cup of tea, watch television or read a book, or if I'm feeling stressed I will go for a walk to help me relax. I've just started practising yoga and it can help you unwind.

My day starts with a gym session about 7.30am, then I go on to work for 9am. I try to get round all three pubs so I spend a lot of time on the road, before arriving on time for the evening service at Balloo House. On weeknights I get off work about 10.30, and 11.30 at the weekend.

I'm nearly always in bed by midnight and am very lucky as I sleep like a log - as soon as my head hits the pillow I'm off to sleep.

Sleep is important - if you don't get enough of it, over time you will become burnt out. Before I go to bed I will sit and just be quiet and let all the work worries go, otherwise I won't sleep well. I won't have any conversation - I'm not much craic at that time of the night. I have been reading about meditation and am keen to practise it, too. I like the idea of taking a couple of hours out of the day just to clear your mind of everything. It's a good opportunity to do something for yourself, especially if you have been working all day.

I don't have a television in my bedroom, although I do have my mobile phone with me, but it is always set to silent.

While I understand the importance of getting enough sleep I think I do get enough - about six hours every night. Sometimes I feel as though people make too much of the fact they may not have had a good night's sleep instead of just getting on with it. We all spend enough time in our beds. There are worse things for your health, like smoking - it's got to be very bad for you.

We should all look after our health more as we get older, though. When I turned 40, I started running and now I'm in the best shape of my life - I'm fitter and healthier than when I was 16 and I definitely have more energy.

I made a decision to eat healthier, too, as chefs tend to pick at food, maybe just having a slice of toast after work. Now, I have meat-free Mondays and make a point of eating well.

Getting a good night's sleep is good for you, but I believe getting time for yourself is even more important."

Belfast Telegraph


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