File photo: A third of adults have suffered sleep problems for at least five years, including a fifth who have been troubled for a decade or more.

A rising numbers of people are turning to nightcaps to help them get a good night’s sleep – and many are even shunning their partners, research shows.

A quarter of adults say they drink alcohol before nodding off, up from 16 percent just four years ago.

And the rates of drinking were highest amongst the middle-aged, with 30 percent of the 45 to 54-year-olds regularly boozing before bed.

This is compared to 25 percent of all adults who said they used alcohol to help them sleep, although not every night.

This is perhaps hardly surprising, as the survey of 5 002 British men and women by the Sleep Council also found that the UK is a nation struggling to get enough rest.

About 45 percent said they were kept awake by stress, while a quarter said they were regularly disturbed by their partner.

And a third of adults have suffered sleep problems for at least five years, including a fifth who have been troubled for a decade or more.

Just under three quarters – 74 percent – sleep for the ideal seven hours or more, while an eighth get less than five hours.

As a result, couple are increasingly resorting to spending the night apart to get more sleep.

Twelve percent said they no longer sleep with their partner, a rise from eight percent in 2013. And 24 percent said they now sleep apart at least some of the time, compared to 22 percent in 2013.

Fewer people are also relying on books to help them nod off – just 26 percent said they read at bedtime, a drop from 41 percent four years previously.

More positively, the research revealed that fewer adults are checking their emails before bed – six percent compared with 14 percent in 2013.

However, it was the rise in drinking before bed which has most troubled researchers and charities. Campaigners pointed out that although alcohol may initially help people drop off, the quality of sleep tends to be less deep and more disturbed.

Lisa Artis, of the Sleep Council said: "The latest report is worrying on a number of fronts – particularly the facts which show we’re getting even less sleep now, the rise in alcohol consumption as a way of getting to sleep and the increase in couples who sleep apart."

A spokesperson from Alcohol Concern said: "Alcohol acts as a suppressant on the brain which, as a result, causes drowsiness. This is why some people use alcohol to help them sleep. Alcohol, however, actually stops you from getting deep sleep, which is the most restful part.

"After a big night out, people can often wake up feeling less rested even after a night’s sleep."

Previous studies have repeatedly shown that a good night’s sleep can improve the circulation, boost immunity and prevent obesity.

Research last year by the University of California found that sleeping badly raised the risk of an irregular heartbeat by a quarter.

WHY DRINKING MAKES YOU MORE DROWSY

A glass of wine or two may make you nod off more quickly, but the quality of sleep is nowhere near as restful.

Research has consistently shown that sleep is disruptive as the alcohol causes the brain to be more active.It also reduces a crucial part of our sleeping pattern called Rapid Eye Movement (REM), which helps resets the body.

This usually happens 90 minutes after we fall asleep and is when dreaming occurs.But scientists have found that drinking alcohol leads us to skipping REM and falling straight into a deep sleep. A lack of REM sleep is known to cause drowsiness in the day and poor concentration.

Alcohol can also cause pauses in the breathing – a condition known as sleep apnoea – which causes us to suddenly wake up.