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Staying up late to Netflix, chill, and snack yourself to sleep is fun, until it’s not—like, um, when you actually have something to get up for in the morning. A day job, maybe. But even if you don’t live that 9 to 5 life, you might notice that in your 20s, the sleep habits of your wild younger years don’t feel as good as they used to. That might mean that you’ve starting waking up at 8am no matter what time you go to bed, or maybe you’ve noticed that the difference between six hours of sleep and eight can be a literal day-ruiner.
As your adolescent sleep cycle comes to an end, it’s important to update your bedtime habits. We talked to NYC sleep expert Dr. Martha Cortes about how to adjust your routine to start sleeping—and therefore, functioning—like an actual adult.
Sleep more, earlier
It’s not news that most of us need seven to nine hours of sleep in order to feel well-rested (though Dr. Cortes notes that if you need more than eight or nine, you should see a doctor). But it’s not just how much sleep you get that matters—it’s when that sleep occurs. According to Dr. Cortes, if you’re staying up past 10pm, your brain doesn’t have a chance to secrete enough melatonin (the hormone that regulates sleep). Without melatonin, she says “you don’t have serotonin. Serotonin is essentially your natural antidepressant chemistry of the body.” So people who stay up too late won’t just feel tired: “They’re more likely to be sad and depressed.”
The absolute latest you should be going to bed, she says, is 11pm.
Invest in your sleep
Still camping out on the discount spring mattress you scored a decade ago? It might be time for a change. If your mattress is too old, Dr. Cortes says, it can cause back pain–and, she adds, it might even get moldy. Gross!
Luckily, you don’t have to break the bank to get a mattress that works for your body. Thanks to the newly competitive disruptive luxury mattress market, there are a ton of options. Casper, for one, sells a full-size for $750. Brands like Sealy have recently hopped on the luxury-for-less train, with Cocoon, which comes in two different feels (soft and firm), also for $749 for a full-size. (I have a Cocoon in “soft” and honestly, it’s a wonder I ever get out of it at all, but that’s another story.)
“A medium firm mattress is always best, with a softer pillow to support your back,” Dr. Cortes says.
Dress for it
Dressing for success isn’t just a day job thing. What you wear to bed can truly change how well you sleep. In the winter, Dr. Cortes says to go flannel—sheets, pajamas, everything. In the summer, she recommends cotton, as it’s natural, lightweight, and breathable.
If you’re willing to invest a little in your nighttime style, brands like Lunya make pajamas that are specifically designed to regulate your body temperature while you sleep. Way chicer than your go-to T-shirt (no shade, though), Lunya uses a specific fabric blend in its pajamas that increases your body’s natural oxygen levels, which helps you heal while you sleep. Talk about multitasking.
Practice Snack Awareness
Not eating before bed is a tall order. But, to our surprise, Dr. Cortes says that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Yes, she says, it’s best not to eat at least three hours before you go to sleep. But if it’s time for bed and you’re totally not tired yet, she said it’s okay to eat food with tryptophan in it, which will actually make you sleepy, like turkey and even pasta (yay!).
If you are trying to stick to a three-hour goal, she recommends taking a walk or doing yoga afterward to help with digestion. In fact, this is the only time she says it’s okay to exercise before bed. Otherwise, keep the cardio in the morning.