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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Getting a Good Night's Sleep

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If you are having trouble sleeping, consider implementing some of the following general suggestions*:

*This information summarizes common suggestions and guidelines about sleep hygiene found on several reputable health web-sites. This information is not meant to take the place of medical guidance in dealing with a sleep problem. If you believe you have a serious sleep disorder, you should seek help from a physician or sleep clinic specialist.

Sleep Behavior

  • Avoid napping during the daytime. If daytime sleepiness becomes overwhelming, limit nap time to a single nap, preferably 20 minutes but no longer than 1 hour, and no later than 3 pm. (AASM).
  • Go to bed only when drowsy.
  • If you are unable to fall asleep or stay asleep after 15 to 30 minutes, leave your bed and/or bedroom and engage in a quiet activity elsewhere. Do not permit yourself to fall asleep outside of the bedroom. Return to bed only when you are sleepy. Repeat this process as often as necessary throughout the night.
  • Avoid oversleeping and lying in bed for prolonged periods after your sleep is completed.
  • Do not allow yourself to lie in bed worrying about problems or challenge of the upcoming day. If necessary, set aside a 'worry time' at a different time.
  • If you get up during the night to use the bathroom, it is best if you do not turn on lights because bright light tells your body it is time to wake up. If possible, use a night light in your bathroom.

Preparation for Sleep

  • Don't eat or drink a lot too close to your bedtime -- if you need or want to eat late, eat only a light dinner and do so at least 2 hours before sleeping. Avoid spicy or fatty foods which may cause heartburn. If you drink too much liquid before sleeping, you'll wake repeatedly in the night for trips to the bathroom.
  • While a light snack before bedtime can help promote sleep, avoid eating immediately before turning in. If you do eat a light snack at night, it's best to eat foods that that trigger serotonin, which makes you sleepy. Carbohydrates (e.g., bread or cereal) or foods containing the amino acid L-tryptophan (e.g., milk, tuna, or turkey) will do the trick.
  • Do not agonize about falling asleep. The stress will only prevent sleep.
  • Taking a hot shower or bath before bed helps bring on sleep because it can relax tense muscles.
  • Use a relaxation exercise just before going to sleep (e.g., muscle relaxation, imagery).
  • Do a relaxing activity before bedtime (e.g., read, listen to quiet music, do a craft, watch something non-emotionally arousing on television).
  • Don't rely on sleeping pills, including over-the-counter (non-prescription pills, many of which are anti-histamines). Check with your doctor before using sleeping pills. Make sure the pills won't interact with other medications or with an existing medical condition.

Sleep/Wake Cycle

  • Get regular exposure to outdoor or bright lights, especially in the late afternoon.
  • Maintain a regular arise time, even on days off work and weekends.
  • Go to bed around the same time every night.


  • Avoid strenuous exercise close to bedtime (AASM).
  • If you are trying to sleep better, the best time to exercise is in the afternoon (Mayo).
  • Regular exercise can improve restful sleep. This includes stretching and aerobic exercise.


  • Caffeine and nicotine are addictive stimulants that keep you awake. Smokers experience withdrawal symptoms at night, and they have a harder time both falling asleep and waking up.
  • Avoid caffeine within four to six hours of bedtime (AASM).
  • Avoid the use of nicotine close to bedtime or during the night. (AASM).
  • Check the label: many products have caffeine such as chocolate, green tea, over-the-counter diet pills, and herbal supplements.


  • Do not drink alcoholic beverages within four to six hours before bedtime (AASM).
  • Don't drink alcohol near bedtime; it may cause you to wake up repeatedly (Mayo).

Sleep Environment

  • Make your bed good for you. A good bed is subjective and different for each person. Make sure you have a bed that is comfortable and offers orthopedic, correct sleep.
  • Keep it quiet. Silence is more conducive to sleep. Turn off the radio and TV. Use earplugs, a fan or some other source of constant, soothing, background noise to mask sounds that you cannot control, such as a busy street, trains, airplanes or even a snoring partner. Heavy curtains also muffle outside noise.
  • For most people, a slightly cool room is ideal for sleeping; this mimics your body's temperature drop during sleep. On the one hand, you do not want your bedroom to be so cool that you are chilly; on the other hand, you do not want your bedroom to be too warm.
  • Experiment with room temperature and find what is best for you.
  • Use your bed for sleep and sex only. Do not engage in other activities in bed, e.g., reading, studying, watching television. Why? Because you want your bed to achieve what psychologists call "stimulus control" - that is, you want your bed to be a stimulus or cue for one and only one response, sleeping.
  • Minimize light, noise, and extremes in temperature in the bedroom.
  • If you have allergies to dust, dust mites, and other common features of a typical bedroom, take steps to create a relatively allergen-free bedroom.

Sleep Aides

  • White noise: Steady low sounds (such as those coming from a fan or an air conditioner) mask or dilute sounds that may be keeping you awake. Electronic "sound machines" are available for purchase that play continuous soothing sounds (e.g., waves, rain, or waterfall) or emit a fan-like masking white noise that can cover any distracting noises. Many students in residence hall or apartment complex environments, which may sometimes be noisy, find the use of a fan or sound machine to be very helpful.
  • Ear plugs: There are several varieties of earplugs that are helpful in blocking out disruptive noises that interfere with sleep.
  • Sleep masks: Sleep masks block out all light and offer the enjoyment of sleeping in total darkness.
  • Blackout curtains: There are several curtains that almost completely shut out unwanted light and also reduce noise.
  • Tapes: There are a wide variety of assorted sleep-inducing audiotapes ranging from visualization or relaxation techniques to soothing music or nature sounds.

Fast Facts about Sleep

  • Most adults require 7.5 - 8 hours of sleep. Teenagers and children require even more!
  • Erratic sleep habits prevent training of the "biological clocks" in our brains that help control our alertness and ability to sleep.
  • Many people seem to 'get their second wind' after midnight. They will than have more difficulty falling asleep.

Additional information can be found at the web site of the National Sleep Foundation