The right amount of sleep is...

I've seen a lot of studies on sleep -- studies that claim to have figured out exactly how much rest you need each night right down to the minute.

And they all seem to come up with a different number.

Some claim the secret to perfect rest and rejuvenation is eight hours a night or more. Others claim it's six and change.

The latest, a look at data on more than 15,260 senior female nurses, claims the real number is seven. Get seven hours of sleep a night, and you could slash your risk of memory loss and cognitive decline, and maybe even avoid dementia.

Now, I'm not going to say seven hours a night is bad. It's certainly a reasonable number to shoot for.

But God didn't punch us out of cookie cutters.

We're different, and our sleep needs differ from person to person. Your own sleep needs will even change over the years, as you get older.

The one consistent takeaway from the research is this: too little sleep, in general six hours a night or less, will increase your risk of disease and an early death. But too much sleep -- nine or ten hours a night or more -- could also increase those risks.

The key is to get into the "Goldilocks zone" and find the amount of sleep that's just right for you.

And the best way to do that is to listen to your body.

If you wake up feeling less than refreshed, if you're tired during the day, or if you struggle to keep awake in the evening, then you're probably not getting enough.

Shoot for more.

I know that's easier said than done. While some people can fall asleep the moment head meets pillow, it's a bit of a battle for others.

If you're among them, you're hardly alone. Natural sleep aids such as the "sleep hormone" melatonin or herbal remedies such as chamomile and passionflower, can help, but chronic sleep problems are often a sign of another underlying issue.

Work closely with a holistic doctor to find and fix those problems, and you'll be back to sleeping like a baby in no time.

For natural sleep solutions in Southern California, make an appointment to see me at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine.

Not in the area? I'm also available by phone. Call 855-DOC-MARK to schedule a consultation.