Don't smoke, cut back on the booze, try to stick to a healthy diet, get some exercise --- that's enough health rules to be getting on with surely? But there's one essential element that many people forget about. 

Sleep is as important as any of those in keeping us on the rails. This was one of the main messages I took away from a visit to Champneys Tring recently. I was at the well-known health spa to sample a Lifestyle Improvement Plan, for which food and drink intake, exercise levels and daily activities are monitored in advance. The aim is to illustrate that everything you do has an effect on your general level of wellness. Based on the information, they come up with a personalised plan to improve your health. And, if you're lucky, you have time for something fabulous like a massage or a swim in their enormous heated pool.

In the short term, poor sleep can negatively affect our mood and ability to accomplish even simple tasks.

But back to sleep…. if you're lucky. According to a survey of 2000 British people, over half of us report that we are tired; in fact more than a third of women surveyed said tiredness was their biggest wellbeing concern. Sleep studies expert Prof Jason Ellis of Northumbria University has been drafted in by Champneys to help those taking part in the LIP programme to make the sort of changes in your life that will include better, more restorative, sleep.

“We know that in the short term poor sleep can negatively affect our mood and ability to accomplish even simple tasks. But we also see a longer-term, more significant connection to our physical and psychological health, with links to depression and type 2 diabetes," said Prof Ellis. There are 15million sleeping pill prescriptions written every year in the UK, with a huge cost of close to £50million to the NHS.

Prof Ellis's top five tips for a good night's sleep are:

1. A good firm mattress is essential. You should replace yours every five to 10 years

2. If your pillow, held vertically in front of you, flops over, throw it out. Bed and pillow problems will increase your vulnerability to waking by as much as 10 times

3. Alcohol may appear to help you sleep, but it also greatly increases your arousal from sleep

4. Your place of sleep should always be cool, dark, quiet and comfortable

5. You should not have laptops, phones or iPads in the bedroom. Looking at them increases mental energy. Also, the blue light they emit hits the optic nerve and stimulates cortisol in the brain

How much sleep an individual needs varies enormously. For one thing, we change as we grow older. In puberty we need a lot of slow wave sleep, after 40 it often reduces, and even more so after 65. Some people may need their nine hours every night, and others only six; four and a half hours, says Prof Ellis, is the bare minimum.

For more information about the Lifestyle Improvement Plan at Champneys, click here