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Better Sleep After 50!

How well did you sleep last night? If it wasn't as long or as restfully as you'd like, you're in good company: Nearly half of Americans ages 50 and older get less than 7 hours of shut-eye every night, and only 32% report sleeping soundly, according to a recent Gallup survey. Blame it on your aging brain, joint pain, and other health issues.
/ Source: Prevention

How well did you sleep last night? If it wasn't as long or as restfully as you'd like, you're in good company: Nearly half of Americans ages 50 and older get less than 7 hours of shut-eye every night, and only 32% report sleeping soundly, according to a recent Gallup survey. Blame it on your aging brain, joint pain, and other health issues.

"Sleep is one of the most vital components of health and well-being," says sleep researcher Sonia Ancoli-Israel, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego. Women ages 60 and older who rest well are about 9 times more likely to feel good both mentally and physically as they age, she says. Research shows that not getting enough rest puts you at risk of a host of illnesses, from the common cold to diabetes. Here, four midlife sleep stealers, and how to get the shut-eye you need to stay happy and healthy.


SLEEP THIEF
Your Age

"Just as bone and muscle change in midlife, so does the structure of the brain, which impacts our ability to sleep," says Michael V. Vitiello, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science and a sleep expert at the University of Washington. "Expecting 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep as we age goes against physiology." Researchers don't know exactly what happens to our gray matter, but they do know that from midlife on, sleep patterns change in specific ways. For one, it takes more time to nod off. "A 20-year-old can be asleep in 5 minutes, but at 55, it can take 20 minutes," says Vitiello. Midlifers also sleep fewer hours and less soundly. While waking up to turn over or fix a pillow is common regardless of age, older people do so more often and stay awake 5 to 10 minutes longer.

Get the best rest with 100 ways to sleep better.

SLEEP RELIEF
Establish a consistent, calming prebed ritual. For example, wash your face, put on pajamas, and read a little — in that order. "It lets your mind know it's time to go to sleep," says Emerson Wickwire, PhD, codirector of the Center for Sleep Disorders in Maryland. "Checking e-mail or paying bills before bed only revs you up." In his research, Wickwire found that adults who followed a bedtime routine fell asleep 48 minutes faster and slept more than an hour longer. Another strategy: Exercise regularly. According to a Brazilian study, people who walked on a treadmill for one 50-minute session fell asleep in 19 minutes versus their prestudy average of 42 minutes. They also slept 1.2 hours longer. One caveat: Exercise at least 5 hours before bedtime; physical activity boosts body temperature, which needs to drop back down before you can fall asleep.


SLEEP THIEF
Pain

Nearly 20% of Americans age 55-plus experience pain that disturbs their sleep at least a few nights a week, according to a National Sleep Foundation poll. Michael Smith, PhD, director of the Johns Hopkins Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, found that 88% of people with chronic pain (caused by back problems and osteoarthritis, for example) report trouble falling and staying asleep. Conversely, getting too little rest can cause or intensify pain, creating a vicious cycle. In the lab, Smith awakened healthy young adults for 20 minutes every hour during an 8-hour period for 3 days in a row. The result: They suddenly developed pain.

SLEEP RELIEF
Cognitive behavioral therapy can be as effective as prescription sleep meds at breaking the cycle of insomnia, and it may be especially helpful for people in pain. Recent published research found that traditional CBT methods not only help improve sleep but also ease osteoarthritis pain. The cognitive part of CBT involves changing how you think about discomforts; the behavioral part targets behaviors. Participants in the CBT and sleep study went to bed and got up at the same times every day, stayed in bed only when they were asleep, and practiced relaxation techniques. They also learned good sleep habits, such as keeping the bedroom quiet and taking a bath at night. The benefits were still evident a year later, says Vitiello, who led the study. To find a CBT therapist, contact your state psychologists association.

Have extreme head, back or arthritis aches and pains? Try these 11 natural pain relievers.


SLEEP THIEF
Sleep Apnea

Among middle-aged women, an estimated 1 in 50 suffer from sleep apnea. It causes breathing to pause during sleep, with episodes occurring 5 to 30 or more times per hour and lasting seconds to minutes. When blood levels of oxygen drop as a result, the brain disrupts sleep, helping to open the airways. Two signs you may have apnea: You snore and/or gasp during sleep and suffer from insomnia. Talk to your doctor about getting tested — aside from disrupting sleep, apnea ups your risk of stroke, depression, and diabetes.

SLEEP RELIEF
To ease snoring and other apnea symptoms, avoid certain sleep meds and alcohol before bed — they make it harder for airways to stay open. And sleep on your side instead of your back to help keep airways open. If these measures don't help, you may be a candidate for CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), a treatment that involves wearing a nose or mouth mask to bed as a machine pumps air into your throat to help you breathe easier.


SLEEP THIEF
Restless Legs

Though the cause isn't known, the risk of developing restless legs syndrome can rise with age, says Ancoli-Israel. RLS — characterized by a sensation likened to ants crawling inside your legs — most often occurs shortly after you go to bed, keeping you from falling asleep. The only way to relieve discomfort is to move your legs.

SLEEP RELIEF
There's no known cure, but cutting back on alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine may ease symptoms in some people,
as can treatments aimed at reducing stress, such as stretching and massages. Prescription medicines for RLS lower dopamine levels in the brain, reducing leg motions so that you can sleep better.

More Links:
New Secrets for All-Day Energy
What to Do If You're Tired All the Time
10 Surprising Reasons You Can't Sleep