TOYAH Willcox has tried everything from sleeping pills to herbal remedies to enjoy what many of us take for granted – a normal night’s sleep.

From the age of 14, the 54-year-old has suffered from chronic insomnia, surviving on as little as four hours of sleep a night – a couple of hours after midnight and only two more between 7-9am.

It’s estimated by the NHS that a third of people in the UK suffer from the condition, which is a difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep long enough to feel refreshed, with women and older people being most affected.

Despite the handicap of getting so little rest – a regular sleep pattern of at least six hours is considered essential for good health – the singer, who found fame as an orange-haired punk in the Eighties, has enjoyed a successful career in music and as an actress.

“When I was young I just regarded not sleeping as a fantastic way to pack more into my days. I always reasoned that life’s so short, it seemed crazy to waste it sleeping,” she says.

But eventually it turned into a “nightmare”, raising her stress levels and making her vulnerable to worry.

She’s talking at her London home – she also has a home in Pershore – about the tricky path which has now led to a transformation in her sleep – and it’s thanks to acupuncture.

Willcox wants to draw attention to the alternative therapy and mark Acupuncture Awareness Week (February 25-March 3).

She comes from a family of insomniacs and says her own problems started during her childhood in Birmingham.

“I remember my mother doing houswork until 4am and then a couple of hours later taking me to school,” she recalls.

“My sleep pattern got disrupted when I was taking my O-levels, but in those days nobody addressed things like that in children. My older sister, Nicola, still only sleeps for four hours a night too, but as she’s a high-powered executive it suits her lifestyle.”

Willcox took sleeping pills for a short time in her twenties but disliked feeling sluggish and drowsy all the time. “I was trying to be creative and write and perform, which was impossible when I was on those. I gave them up very quickly,” she says.

Instead, she resorted to quick 20-minute catnaps to refresh herself in the afternoon while she was on demanding musical tours.

“I have a very active brain and a tendency to worry and that coupled with our 24-hour hectic lifestyle, which now makes it harder for normal people to sleep, resulted in it being near impossible for me,” she says.

It has, she admits, not been easy for her husband, musician Robert Fripp, 66.

“It’s been hell for him because he loves 10 hours of sleep a night, but he’s been so patient and supportive with me, and tried to help me relax and try to sleep,” she says. “But it’s difficult to get excited about going to bed when you know you’ll be awake 90 per cent of the night!”

Nearly three years ago, the situation was further complicated as she was also suffering constant pain, making sleep even more difficult, and was dependent on a carer to drive her around for a year.

Toyah was born with only one hip socket and one leg two inches shorter than the other, which eventually needed surgery.

“At one stage I was using crutches on stage and couldn’t walk more than 20 yards but a hip replacement in 2010 sorted that out. I’m completely back to normal and just do daily physio exercises to keep myself supple.”

Finally, last year, Willcox, who will star in a three-month tour of the sketch show Hormonal Housewives, became anxious about the potential health risks arising from her insomnia.

“For the first time, I realised how much your body needs sleep to renew itself and heal. Also, I learnt lack of sleep can lead to obesity, and leave you at risk of heart disease and stroke,” she says.

After previously having successful acupuncture treatment for joint pain, she decided to test the therapy’s effectiveness on her sleep problem.

“I started the treatments in June and dozed off during them, which is unheard of for me,” she says.

“It took around three months and now I have built up to seven hours of sleep a night, which is incredible. Acupuncture’s changed my life. I feel so much better, have more energy, my brain’s more alert, and I can thoroughly enjoy a good night’s rest.

“It’s a new experience for me to feel totally refreshed in the morning and I would never have believed it was possible.

“I go once a month for a top-up treatment and that keeps me on track. It’s so calming and I also use scented candles in the bedroom at night to soothe me.”

Acupuncture, which originated in China and treats patients by manipulating thin needles, is said to help re-balance the body by helping the body channel an energy called Qi (pronounced Chee).

It’s also said to encourage the release of feel-good chemicals, serotonin and melatonin.

The availability of acupuncture on the NHS is limited, and most acupuncture patients pay for private treatment.

“I’ve got no intention of slowing down my lifestyle. Over Christmas I did 97 performances in seven weeks, and so I need to be fit and carry on enjoying my life and the years ahead.

“Now sleep is the last thing I worry about. I’m too busy learning my lines for the sketch show, Hormonal Housewives, planning all my other projects, and enjoying my life. It’s a wonderful release from a life-long problem.”