Leading article: Good night

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From Samuel Taylor Coleridge to John Lennon, our bards have made a pretty good job of articulating the joys of sleep. But as a nation, it has to be said that we've made a pretty poor fist of acting on their encomia to that blissful state. If sleep is "a gentle thing, beloved from pole to pole", why are we "still yawning" in the middle of the afternoon? A survey has discovered that we are not sleeping enough here in Britain. More than two-thirds of those questioned said they were not getting the recommended eight hours of sleep a night. This must come into that bulging category of surveys which would have provoked more surprise had they yielded the reverse result.

It will come as no surprise either to learn that the over-45s are getting the least sleep, while 18- to 24-year-olds receive the most. Our universities come in for a lot of criticism these days, but they are still managing to produce top performers in the lying-in league tables.

The question is how can this excellence be "rolled out", as they say in Whitehall, to the wider sleep-deprived community? Company nap times? Government-mandated "zzz"s quotas? It is all worth exploring. And think of the benefits it would generate: higher productivity, improved judgement, not to mention the energy saving potential.

But we must beware the temptation to set the bar too low and risk forcing people out of their slumber before they are ready. Because, as the American playwright, Wilson Mizner, put it: "The amount of sleep required by the average person is about five minutes more."

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