EEG arousals were quantified in 40 nocturnal polysomnographic recordings belonging to four age groups (teenagers: 10 to 19 years; young adults: 20 to 39 years; middle-aged: 40 to 59 years; elderly: > or = 60 years). Ten subjects (five males and five females) participated in each group. The subjects were healthy and sound sleepers. All sleep recordings were preceded by an adaptation night which aimed at excluding the presence of sleep-related disorders. The recordings were carried out in a partially soundproof recording chamber and in a standard laboratory setting. Arousal indices (AI), defined as the number of arousals per hour of sleep, were calculated for total sleep time (AI/TST) and for all the sleep stages. AI/TST increased linearly with age (r = 0.852; p < 0.00001): teenagers (13.8), young adults (14.7), middle-aged (17.8), elderly (27.1). An age-related positive linear correlation was found also for the arousal indices referred to NREM sleep (r = 0.811; p < 0.00001) and to stages 1 and 2 (r = 0.712; p < 0.00001), while in stages 3 and 4 and in REM sleep, arousal indices showed stable values across the ages. Overall, arousals lasted 14.9 +/- 2.3 seconds, with arousal duration stable across the ages (range of means: 13.3-16.6 seconds) and no relevant differences between NREM sleep (14.6 +/- 2.5 seconds) and REM sleep (16.2 +/- 5 seconds). The paper discusses the impact of age on arousals, the similarities between arousals and the phases d'activation transitoire, and the consideration that arousals are physiological components of sleep.