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How Boomers Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Aaahhh, sleep. Is there anything as necessary and, for so many, as elusive as a good night’s rest?
About 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep deprivation is associated with injuries, weight gain, chronic diseases, and just plain crankiness. Sleep apnea, a disorder the prevalence of which increases with age, is a risk factor for heart disease. What’s more, recent research suggests that sleep plays a vital role in cleaning out potentially toxic waste from our brains that, if left to accumulate, may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

Yet as important as it is, good sleep can become harder to achieve as we get older. Certain measures of sleep quality begin to deteriorate very gradually starting as early as age 19, according to Dr. Anda Baharav, founder and chief scientist of SleepRate, a company that recently launched an app-based sleep improvement plan based on cognitive behavioral therapy, a standard treatment for insomnia.

By the time people hit their 40s or 50s, some report more difficulty falling asleep and more nocturnal awakenings than they experienced when they were younger. Folks a couple decades older than that often have trouble maintaining 16 hours of wakefulness, leading to naps that might disrupt nighttime sleeping.

The following tips can also help you get a good night’s rest:

Limit screen time before bed.

As hard as it is to unplug, it’s necessary to truly unwind, experts say. Electronic devices such as smartphones emit a blue wavelength light that causes alertness in the user. If you truly can’t live without checking email right before bed, consider wearing amber-colored sunglasses that filter out the blue light.

Go to bed at the right time.

While most people need between seven and nine hours a night, there are outliers on either end, experts say. “No one should have a random benchmark,” Dr. Sigrid Veasey, associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine said. You may be stressing out that you can’t seem to get eight hours when you really need just seven. After you figure out, through trial and error, how many hours you need, work backward from your wake-up time to determine what time you should go to bed. Trying to sleep any earlier than that can be counterproductive.

Check your meds.

Plenty of medications can contribute to sleep problems. Some, like certain medications to treat high blood pressure, are diuretics that can increase urine production. They might be better taken in the morning than at night. Other medications can have different effects on sleep, so make sure your doctor knows what you’re taking.

Relax.

Sleep problems can escalate quickly, when our worry about sleep loss perpetuates the cycle of lost sleep. It is easy to feel like we’re failing at some basic human function, but we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves, experts say. Many high-achievers approach their sleep with a take-charge attitude that’s better left for daytime activities.

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