1. How much sleep do you need?

    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.

  2. Lack of sleep a brain-damaging habit

    Poor sleep kills off essential neurons

    That hazy-dazy feeling you get after a night of short sleep might seem to fade after a second (or third) cup of coffee. But don't kid yourself, because the damage from lack of sleep never really fades at all.

    The harm is lasting and even permanent, as failing to get the rejuvenating rest your body needs can kill off some of the most critical cells in your brain.

    In a new study on mice, missed sleep caused a 25 percent drop in neurons in a region of the brain called the locus coeruleus.

    That's the part you rely on for both mental alertness and overall cognitive function.

    Yes... all your brain cells are important, but these neurons are some of the most critical of all.

    They're so essential that your brain has a mechanism in place to protect them from lack of sleep. When you fall short, you produce extra sirtuin type 3, a protein that helps keep those locus coeruleus neurons from dying off.

    But when you consistently fall short, the protein essentially gives up. Production tails off, and the neurons die.

    Perhaps the most frightening part of this study is that it shows you can't really catch up. If you miss sleep often on weekdays, as so many do, but sleep in on weekends, those brain cells will still disappear faster than a politician's campaign promise after Election Day.

    And that's not the only reason to make sure you sleep right every night.

    A second new study confirms something we've seen before: When you lose sleep, your body loses the ability to metabolize sugar in the blood -- and that's why poor sleep can lead to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and more.

    Making matters worse, lack of sleep also messes with your ability to watch what you eat -- so you eat too much (and, from what I've seen, people who stay up too late tend to eat all the wrong things, too).

    And when you miss out on sleep, your body has a hard time using energy, so it stores it by turning it into... you guessed it: fat!

    If you're having trouble sleeping, don't wait for it to turn into a brain disorder or diabetes. Take action now with natural sleep remedies.

    And for one more reason to make sure you get control of your sleep problems, keep reading.

  3. Lack of sleep can worsen chronic pain

    Pain patients who can't sleep get less activity, which worsens the pain so they sleep even less. Here's how you can break out of this cycle.
  4. Sleep can be natural detox for the brain

    Sleep can detoxify the brain by sweeping out toxins -- including the toxins that lead to dementia.
  5. Electronic devices disrupt sleep cycles

    The artificial LED light from electronic devices like iPads fool your body into thinking it's daytime disrupting melatonin production, leading to sleep issues, immunity problems, and reducing your protection against diseases like cancer.
  6. Sleep can ease your pain tolerance

    People who sleep less feel more pain -- so the ultimate pain-fighting "drug" may simply be an extra hour or two in bed each night.
  7. A wake-up call for bad sleep habits

    Judging by myself and my patients -- not to mention the bags under the eyes of many of the people I meet each day -- I'd say the biggest problem when it comes to sleep is that we don't get nearly enough of it.
  8. Dying to get some sleep

    Some people are lucky enough to fall asleep the moment their head hits the pillow. I've never been one of them, but I've never had to rely on sleep meds to get my rest, either, and that's a good thing: The latest warning finds that these drugs come with one whopper of a death risk.
  9. How much sleep does your teen really need?

    Look at all the research on kids and sleep, and two things become clear quickly: 1) Kids don't need as much as most of us think they do, and 2) They're still not getting enough anyway.
  10. Fix your apnea, heal your heart

    Someone with apnea can go through dozens of breathless bouts per night and never even realize it -- but in this case, what you don't know can not only hurt you... it can kill you, too. Apnea has been linked to everything from sexual dysfunction and metabolic syndrome to diabetes and heart disease -- but now, researchers have confirmed that it's not too late for people already fighting that nightly battle.
  11. Move more, sleep better

    Sometimes, the simplest things are hardest to get -- like a good night's sleep.
  12. The cherry on top of a good night's sleep

    People looking for a little help getting to sleep used to drink a glass of warm milk. That, or maybe a little brandy. But there's another drink that might help you get off to dreamland quicker -- and it's not what you'd expect.
  13. Risky business: Sleepless kids are bad news

    Kids who miss out on sleep aren't just groggy in school -- they're also far more likely to do all the things that give parents nightmares.
  14. The hidden risks of fatherhood

    You make a lot of sacrifices when you become a parent -- but this is one I'm sure most men never see coming... It's the loss of their manhood. I'm talking about real research that reveals a sharp dip in testosterone levels from the moment they hear the words, "It's a boy!"
  15. The myth of the 'senior moment'

    The "senior moment" -- it's one of the most common stereotypes in movies and on television. But the "senior moment" used so often for cheap laughs isn't nearly as "common" as you've been led to believe. In fact, most seniors barely experience any significant form of cognitive decline over the years.
  16. Why your doctor needs more sleep

    How sharp would you be after 28 hours without sleep? If your answer is "not very," you're like most people. Doctors are like most people, too, once you take away the white coats, stethoscopes, and medical degrees -- but they're routinely scheduled for those infamous 28-hour shifts during their residencies.
  17. Freeze your head

    You probably know all about the wonders of the magical "cool spot" on your pillow (and if you don't, try looking for it tonight). But now, researchers are taking the concept a step further. They've created a water-powered nightcap that can keep your head cool all night long.
  18. Sleep problems linked to TV, Internet

    Now, a new study finds that more than a third of all Americans get less than seven hours of sleep a night--and at the same time, a new survey finds that up to 95 percent of us are in front of those glowing screens within an hour of bedtime.
  19. Bad sleep now, bad health later

    Good sleep is important at any age... but for kids and young adults, insomnia can lead to a lifetime of poor health, bad habits and even mental illness. Two new studies paint a portrait of what can happen when kids and young adults spend too much time awake--and it's not the kind of picture you want in the family scrapbook...
  20. Caffeine and kids don't mix

    One study found that kids who have too much caffeine are staying up well into the night, when their growing bodies should be at rest.

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