Feb. 9, 2006 -- Sleep is the new sex, according to a new investigation by Forbes magazine.
"Sleep is something everyone needs and wants," said Melanie Wells, senior editor of Forbes. "We have to have it, and we have trouble getting it these days. And increasingly people are paying a lot of money for relief."
Forbes estimates sales of prescription drugs, bedding, mattresses, and other sleep-inducing gadgets are a $10 billion to $12 billion a year business, and the business is growing.
Experts agree that 8.5 hours is the optimal amount of sleep each night. However, Americans, on average, get about 6.8 hours a night. About 10 percent of Americans have trouble falling asleep and then staying asleep. Others say they don't have the time, as the 24/7 society forces them to perform more and do more on less sleep.
Sleep deprivation takes both a physical and financial toll. Research shows sleep is catching up with diet and exercise in terms of influencing overall health. Lack of sleep has been linked to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Not getting enough sleep led to $16 billion in annual health-care costs and $50 billion in lost productivity.
"We're just starting to learn from science how important sleep is," Wells said. "This information surfacing just increases people's anxiety about not being able to fall asleep, so you can see how it's a gold mine for companies in the business of helping us fall asleep."
In 2005, 42 million sleeping-pill prescriptions were filled, up 60 percent since 2000. Americans buy about $2 billion worth of sleeping pills a year, and that's expected to grow to $3.8 billion in the near future.
Some doctors worry about significant side effects of sleeping pills, including next-day "hangovers," sleepwalking, amnesia and addiction.
There are also plenty of sleep-aid gadgets on the market, ranging from sound-soothing machines that cost about $100 to mattresses covered in layers of silk for $20,000.
Do these devices really work?
"Some do, some don't," Wells said. "Look, if something like a sound machine that plays foghorns or a clock radio helps people relax and feel a little less anxious and helps them fall asleep, then what harm is it? Peace of mind is priceless."