So you’ve graduated college, you’ve got a grown-up job, you have your own place, and you’re even making your student loan payments on time.
Your plants and pet fish have both survived the summer and you’re having a lot of fun—this whole “adulting” thing is a cinch. You’ve got it all figured out.
But are you getting enough sleep?
In college, it was a badge of honor to stay up all night studying and writing papers. Bragging rights went to whoever functioned best on the least sleep.
Before college, it was pulling pranks on whoever fell asleep first at slumber parties. And even before that, it was pushing for a later bedtime to watch TV or play more video games. Now you’re an adult and you can go to bed as late as you want.
Should you, though?
Sure, as an adult, you have the freedom to choose, but you should also think a lot more about making the right choices.
Being an adult is about knowing how your behavior impacts your mental and physical well-being, and using that knowledge to make intelligent choices for living a healthier and happier life.
How to sleep like the adult you are
According to the Better Sleep Council, poor sleep habits, whether you’re getting not enough sleep or too much, lead to a number of mental and physical health issues, including back pain, exhaustion, poor judgment, high blood pressure, and a higher risk of diabetes.
Insufficient sleep disrupts all of your body’s functions. Take all of this into consideration as you transfer from high school to college to the adult working world and rethink the unhealthy sleep habits you have carried over from adolescence.
Here are five tips to help you transition to better sleep habits.
1. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
Going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning is essential for getting sufficient sleep—and that means every night, including weekends.
Going to bed late and trying to “catch up on sleep” over the weekend by sleeping for a longer amount of time doesn’t work.
That bad habit actually causes something called social jet lag, which, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, causes fatigue, mood problems, and an 11% increase in the likelihood of heart disease. In addition to helping you avoid these negative effects, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule will have you waking up more energized and ready to face the day—for work or play.
2. Lay off the screens near bedtime.
While the bed feels like the perfect place to catch up on the latest Netflix phenomenon or scroll through Facebook on your phone, exposure to blue-light screens within two hours of sleepytime is bad news.
You see, according to Harvard Medical School research, the blue light from screens like your TV, laptop, and phone can suppress the secretion of melatonin, one of the hormones most essential for restful sleep.
Leave the screens outside of the bedroom, and if you need to read something before falling asleep, opt for an old-fashioned book or magazine. You can also counteract the effects of blue-light screens by getting lots of exposure to sunlight during the day, which in turn boosts your mood and alertness while awake, and your ability to sleep at night.
3. Cut out the caffeine, alcohol, and snacks before bedtime.
It’s long been conventional wisdom that caffeine close to bedtime makes it harder to get to sleep, but strangely enough little to no conclusive research supported that guidance until recent years.
The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found in 2013 that a dose of caffeine as many as six hours before bedtime still has a negative effect on your sleep. If your bedtime is around ten in the evening, you should start avoiding caffeine—from coffee, soda, even chocolate—around 4 p.m. In addition, you shouldn’t drink alcohol less than two hours before bedtime.
Even though a nightcap can make you feel drowsy, once it metabolizes in your system it will disturb your sleep. Snacks close to bedtime can cause indigestion that interrupts your sleep as well.
4. Get the right amount of sleep.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the proper amount of sleep for adults is between seven and nine hours. Because this recommendation is a range, you’ll have to determine what within that range works best for you.
Maybe you function best on seven and a half hours, maybe on nine. Anything too far outside of that range, though, and you’ll experience difficulties functioning normally. Without enough sleep, your performance at work will probably be affected.With too much sleep, you’ll feel groggy and lifeless throughout the day. Find the sweet spot, though, and you’ll get on track.
5. Get the right kind of sleep. Your quantity of sleep matters, but quality also counts. If you get eight hours of sleep but are tossing and turning all night, waking up too hot, or unable to get fully comfortable due to an inadequate mattress, it won’t matter that you slept for the right amount of time, because your sleep wasn’t restful.
When you follow these five tips, you’ll be sleeping like the grown-up you are in no time—and you know what? You’ll still have plenty of time for all the fun things you did late at night before, because you’ll wake up early, rested, and ready to go.