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How to Get Better, Restful Sleep as You Age

How to Get Better, Restful Sleep as You Age

In Woody Allen’s 1973 sci-fi comedy Sleeper, Miles Monroe, a jazz musician and owner of the Happy Carrot health-food store, awakens after being cryogenically frozen for 200 years. He’s now the only member of society without a known biometric identity, so he can help rebel scientists defeat the current police state. Great idea. One question, though: At around age 235, do you think Miles needs more or less sleep than he did two centuries ago?

Science tells us the older you get the more you need good quality sleep, but the harder it is to achieve, what with having to get up to pee and being roused by aches and pains. On top of that, age-related biological changes can alter your sleep stages, called non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). As a consequence, it takes you longer to fall asleep, it’s harder to stay asleep and you end up shortchanged on restorative sleep. This can make you fuzzy-brained and chronic sleep deprivation is associated brain inflammation that leads to earlier onset dementia.

Fortunately, you can maintain or improve sleep quality as you age by walking 10,000 steps daily. Plus, before hitting the hay, use ice or heating pads to ease joint pain and practice controlled breathing and/or mindful meditation. To avoid waking up to pee, a new study suggests cutting back on salt eases the urge.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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