Sweet Dreams: The Secrets of Sleep

Sleep problems account for an estimated $16 billion medical costs annually, while the indirect cost due to lost productivity and other factors probably are much greater, according to the American Sleep Association.

Sleepless nights may cost more than mere money. Satisfying sleep also is a very important component for a healthy life according to Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen, authors of "You: Staying Young, The Owner's Manual for Extending Your Warranty."

The doctors explain why sleep is important and tell you how much you need to get.

Why Sleep Is Important

Your brain needs sleep because it exercises the parts of the brain you don't normally use. Your body needs that downtime to repair and refresh its systems. When people don't sleep for three or more days, they sometimes become psychotic.

Also, lack of sleep is associated with mental decline and overeating, which lead to major aging conditions. It's important because sleep is the single most effective way to increase the amount of growth hormone in your body and growth hormone is what makes us look young.

People who sleep less than six hours a night increase their risk of viral illnesses by 50 percent. They also have an increased risk of heart disease and strokes.

Fast Fact: You'll die sooner of sleep deprivation than of food deprivation.

How Much Sleep You Need

On average men need more sleep. Studies show women need seven hours of sleep each night, while men need seven and a half hours.

Babies need more and older people need less. But those numbers are on average. As you get older, you sleep less because your melatonin level plummets. Melatonin, evolved for us to sense light and dark, as well as changes in the season. It is higher at night and during the winter, which is why cultures that have longer winters sleep more.

But this is a hormone that peaks at age five, the declines 80 percent by age 60. So you'll sleep much less.

Basic Steps To Fall Asleep

First, you have to prepare for sleep. Figure out when you want to get up, and count backwards 7 hours. Then take a 15-minute period before that to start your slowdown process. So that's five minutes finishing up last-minute chores; five minutes of hygiene stuff, like brushing your teeth; and five more minutes to relax into sleep.

Fast Fact: If you've been lying there for 15 minutes and can't fall asleep, don't toss and turn. Get up and do some light activity that will get your mind of trying to sleep, such as a yoga pose, meditation, or a short walk.

Get Ready For Sleep

First of all, avoid alcohol, nicotine, and vigorous exercise for at least an hour and a half before bed. You should avoid caffeine from beverages, food, or pills for at least three hours before bed.

Fast Fact: You can have a glass of warm milk, just like your parents always told you.

What should you do about allergies and congestions that keep you awake?

You should consider a breath strip for your nose. Also, make sure you're addressing problems such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or pain you have to treat these or otherwise they will keep you up.

Also, consider herbal supplements to help you sleep. We recommend valerian root or ginseng root. The recommended doses are valerian root (300mg) or ginseng (200 mg).

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