WE all know we should be getting the recommended eight hours’ sleep every night.

New research has even proved that the key to looking attractive and healthy really is beauty sleep.

Participants in a study by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden were photographed after a period of sleep deprivation and rated as less healthy than when they were seen after a full night’s sleep.

But getting your full quota of shut-eye is not always that easy.

“Things that can affect sleep are psychological things such as worries and mood,” explained Dr Andrew Mayers, a psychology lecturer at Bournemouth University.

“That’s the most common thing. The thing to do if you’re particularly worried about something, like financial pressures, or Christmas, is to try and re-focus your thoughts on something much more pleasurable. Think of a beach in the summer.

“They say count sheep, but by concentrating on counting you’re not thinking about those things that are bothering you.”

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously survived on four hours sleep a night, but if your sleep is regularly interrupted, whether because of stress, snoring or unsettled children, there could be serious consequences.

“It can affect our concentration by not having enough sleep,” said Dr Mayers.

“This has been shown to be responsible for more accidents around the home, or driving accidents.

“The growth hormone is secreted when we sleep, which helps us to grow and repair. If that’s not happening you’re more susceptible to illness and if you persist in not having good sleep the psychological effects can be anxiety and depression.”

Lack of sleep has also been shown to affect children’s concentration in class and their ability to learn.

Jane Rose, a teacher at Winton Primary School, works with Dr Mayers to hold Sleep Workshops aimed at helping both parents and children establish a settled bedtime routine.

But there are things you can do yourself to ensure an uninterrupted eight hours, by conditioning your mind and body to sleep.

Keeping a regular bedtime and getting-up time helps your body to know when it should be tired, and sleeping in a well-ventilated room that is neither too hot or too cold is also helpful.

Dr Mayers explained: “Body temperature goes down when you’re ready to go to sleep and rises when you are ready to wake up. If you’re too warm then you will not sleep.”

“Winding down” before bedtime, by reading a book or doing something quiet can aid sleep, as can cutting out caffeine and instead having a milky drink or herbal tea, or snacking on carbohydrates such as oat biscuits.

“If for any reason you find it difficult to get off to sleep, and we do find that from time to time, try not to clock watch, because then you get agitated,” said Dr Mayers.

“If it becomes a problem get up, walk around, stretch, think, sit down, then go back up to bed and you will be surprised – more often than not you will be out like a light.”