Racked by anxiety and worry about personal problems, actress Claire King increasingly found sleep impossible and in desperation eventually turned to sleeping pills to help solve her problem.

The former Emmerdale star is one of an increasing number of people to experience stress-related insomnia – a condition which is costing the NHS millions every year to treat.

“I’d go to bed and manage a couple of hours sleep, then I’d wake up and the worrying would start,” says the actress, who played Kim Tate from 1989 to 1999.

“Things always seem blacker and insoluble in the middle of the night and you feel very alone.

“I’d lie there in my blackest moments convincing myself that I would never find any more work, my money would run out and I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills.

“I’d be praying for the morning, but when it came I was even more anxious as I was getting more and more exhausted and dreaded coping with the days as I had so little energy.”

She revealed her 18-month sleep nightmare as studies, recently released, from health trusts show stress-related insomnia is increasing, in part due to the recession, and a growing number of people are turning to prescription drugs to help them sleep.

It’s estimated a third of people now suffer insomnia. The NHS hands out nearly £50 million-worth of sleeping pills, a cost which has risen by a sixth over the past three years since the economic downturn.

Claire, who since Emmerdale has appeared in TV dramas including Bad Girls, Hollyoaks and Holby City, says it was the combination of a series of events in 2003 which made her feel as though her life was imploding and robbed her of her rest.

“At the time, I was going through the emotional pain of divorce from my husband of nearly 11 years, actor Peter Amory, who’d played my stepson in Emmerdale.

“I’d also just been diagnosed with fibroids, which were extremely painful,” she says. “Continual pain can be very debilitating and one of the fibroid growths was about the size of a grapefruit.”

Lack of sleep is linked to depression and Claire suffered low mood, lost interest in socialising and even had to turn down work because she didn’t feel she had the concentration or energy to cope with it.

But after a year of battling her sleep problems, King felt she needed medical help, and her GP prescribed sleeping pills, which she reluctantly agreed to take.

“I knew there was a risk of becoming dependent on them, so I used them as sparingly as possible.

“In the end I took one every other night just to give myself the relief of a decent night’s sleep. I ended up using only one packet over two months.”

Eventually Claire’s sleep pattern re-established itself, helped in part by her giving up smoking, focusing on a healthy diet, doing a daily exercise session and also using an acupuncture mat, the Yantra mat, pictured.

It is padded and covered in flower-shaped spikes, which claim to help stimulate blood circulation and produce a sensation similar to a massage, and trigger the body to release endorphins to induce relaxation and make it easier to sleep.

“I haven’t had any problems for the past seven years and the mat is one of the things which has really helped me. I lie on it for around 20 minutes daily after my exercise session,” she explains.

“Somehow it seems to have helped my body be more receptive to sleep.”