“Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.” — Anthony Burgess
You can use sleep to your advantage if you can learn how to build the skill of sleep. After all, we spend a lot of time sleeping, might as well do it well, right?
Imagine if you could fall asleep in 2 minutes under any condition and wake up well rested.
Not only will you get to sleep faster, but you will also achieve a better quality of sleep.
This article is a deep dive into how to get to sleep quickly and easily under any condition based on a secret military technique.
The special sleep technique was revealed in the book Relax and Win by Bud Winter and Jimson Lee.
According to the authors, the military used this technique to help Navy fighter pilots fall asleep under any condition and wake up well rested. It worked for insomnia, too.
The bottom line is that the military needed a proven technique to ensure their fighter pilots could perform their best under stress and good sleep was key to their performance.
96% of the cadets were able to train themselves within 6 weeks to fall asleep within 2 minutes, sleep for 5 minutes, and wake up well rested, even sitting in a chair and even under simulated machine gun fire.
The beauty is that anybody can use this sleep technique to fall asleep faster.
Summary of the Powerful Sleep Technique
The key to instant sleep is to relax your body, relax your mind, and then clear your mind of any active thoughts for 10 seconds.
The technique in a nutshell, boils down to 3 main steps:
- Relax your body
- Relax your mind
- Clear your mind of active thoughts for 10 seconds
According to the authors, way back in 1910, Edmund Jacobson demonstrated that when a person relaxes far enough, sleep automatically ensues.
The consistent antidote to all the problems or challenges associated with getting to sleep remains simple:
Use your relaxation techniques to relax mentally and physically.
Prioritize and practice using the relaxation techniques so you can relax your body and relax your mind on demand.
What a Great Sleep Is
The authors shared a simple narrative of what good sleep is like. I find it helpful to have a mental model of what the end in mind is, so that I have something specific and clear to work towards.
Winter and Lee write:
“A great sleep is a sleep of deep mental and physical relaxation. After going through your relaxation routine, in 10 to 120 seconds, you are ‘blanked out’.
You like stretched out in utter physical relaxation. No arm is craped under your head. No leg is pressured by the weight of another leg on top of it.
Your neck and shoulders are not strained out of shape by too many pillows or by pillows that are too hard.
Tight or binding nightclothes are out.
You sleep a deep, often dreamless sleep in which there is little or no motion.
In the morning your sheets and bedclothes never look as though youy had a wrestling match with a bear.”
96% of the Fighter Pilots Could Get to Sleep in Two Minutes or Less
I love when a technique works across the board with high success rates. I was very happy to see that the military enjoyed a 96% success rate teaching cadets to fall asleep in 2 minutes within 6 weeks of training.
And while it didn’t work for a handful of people within the 6 weeks, what’s not clear is whether it worked for them eventually with more practice.
This is where grit and persistence can pay off.
I think of the metaphor that a baby will keep learning to walk until it succeeds. It does not give up and just go back to crawling for life.
It’s worth sticking with this until you learn how to sleep well. You need to sleep well to perform well. And this is a skill you can use for life.
Imagine the advantage you have when you can sleep well on demand and recharge yourself with skill.
Winter and Lee write:
“The better you learn your physical and mental relaxation skills, the better you will sleep. Of the two, learning to relax mentally will be a little harder.
But don’t forget that out of one hundred cadets at the U.S. Naval Pre-Flight School, we could teach even the slow, reluctant, and skeptical to relax and get to sleep.
We could even do this with them sitting in a chair and with simulated machine gun noise harassing their efforts to sleep.
In six week’s time, we could teach about 96% of them to get to sleep in two minutes or less.”
Get to Sleep in 2 Minutes, Wake Up 5 Minutes Later Well Rested
I have to say this part sounds almost too good to be true. At the same time, this information is verbatim from the original trainers of the sleep technique for the military.
I also have to believe that the ability to get to sleep fast, and get a deep sleep, even in short bursts, was key to success.
Q. Do you mean to tell me that I can put myself to sleep in 2 minutes and then 5 minutes later I will be wide awake and well rested?
A. Yes, when I get sleepy while driving, I can pull over to the side of the road, go to sleep for 5 minutes, and wake up alert and ready for 5 more hours of driving. My battery gets charged in that time.
The Key to Instant Sleep is to Learn to Relax Physically and Mentally
The whole idea and basis for getting to sleep faster comes down to learning how to relax yourself physically and mentally.
Winter and Lee write:
“Here is where we teach you instant sleep. We said that if we could get you relaxed physically and then mentally, you would be asleep. Let’s try it.”
The authors also write:
“Let’s sleep on the idea that if you are thoroughly relaxed physically and mentally, you are asleep. If that is true, then the answer to insomnia is simple – learn to relax physically and mentally.
If you learn to do this, you can get to sleep in 2 minutes or less.
A lot of people will give you an argument that getting to sleep is not easy or even possible. To some people, even looking forward to getting to sleep is a nightmare.
What causes so many humans to ride this “night mare”?
As long as you keep thinking, solving problems, worrying, keeping mentally active or continuing to visualize some form of physical activity your brain is sending out messages that contract muscles.
That defeats both mental and physical relaxation.
You then become a candidate for the Midnight Owls Club.”
How To Practice Relaxing Physically
To get to sleep within 2 minutes and achieve better sleep, you first have to learn how to relax physically.
Remember that because this sleep technique was originally taught to fighter pilots, this technique works even if you are sitting in a chair.
Obviously, modify the technique if you are lying in your bed. While the original authors recommended sleeping on your back if you could, some modern science favors sleeping on your side.
Only you can figure out what works best for you, but at least you know that this basic technique for relaxing your body can be applied whether you are sitting in a chair or lying down.
Here is a summary of the approach that the authors share to practice relaxing your body from head to toe:
- Relax your head
- Close your eyes
- Breathe slowly, deeply, and regularly
- Relax your scalp and take all the wrinkles out of your forehead
- Let your jaw sag. Let it drop open. Relax the rest of your face muscles. Get the brook trout look on your face. Relax your tongue and lips.
- Let the muscles that control your eyes go limp in their sockets. No focus, just let them go limp. Breathe slowly.
- Relax your upper body
- Drop your shoulders as low as they will go. Wipe out the tension in the back of your neck by lowering your shoulders and dropping your chin to your chest. When you think you are really relaxed, let them go even more.
- Relax your chest. Take a deep breath and hold it. Exhale and blow out all your tensions. Just let your chest collapse. Let it sag. Imagine you are a big, heavy blob on the chair, a jellyfish. Breathe slowly. When you exhale, release even more of your tensions.
- Relax your arms. Tell your right bicep to relax, go limp. Your arm should feel like a dead weight on your leg. If your hands tingle, that is a good sign of relaxation. A relaxed arm lets the blood flow through the dilated capillaries and makes your hand tingle. Repeat the relaxation process with your left arm.
- Associate this physical state with the world “calm”.
- Your entire upper body has been exposed to relaxation and a warm, pleasant feeling comes over you. You feel good.
- A sense of well-being invades your body. You feel secure – confident.
- Tie this great feeling up with the word “calm”. You are now “calm”
- Relax your lower body
- Let your right thigh muscles go to a dead weight on the chair. Let the meat hang on the bones.
- Go through the same routine for the right calf muscles.
- Then all the muscles of your right ankle and foot.
- Tell yourself that your right leg has no bones in it. It is just a flabby, heavy weight on the deck.
- Repeat the whole process with your left thigh, calf, ankle, and foot.
- Take 3 deep, relaxing breaths
- At present, you are relaxed physically, or think you are.
- For a little insurance, let’s take three deep breaths and when you let them out, blow out all the remaining tensions, one…whoosh, two…whoosh, three…whoosh.
- Relax your head
How To Practice Relaxing Mentally (and Stop Thinking)
To get to sleep within 2 minutes and achieve better sleep, you also have to learn how to relax mentally.
Here is a summary of the approach that the authors share to practice relaxing your mind and stopping any mental chatter and thoughts.
According to Winter and Lee, here are 3 ways to relax mentally and stop thinking:
- Looking Up from a Canoe on a Lake – “The first thing I try is visualizing a scene on a warm Spring day where I am lying on the cushioned bottom of a canoe looking up at some very white, billowy, cumulus clouds lazily floating across the sky. It is very pleasant. I let no physical activity creep into that beautiful picture. No paddling the canoe or anything like that. I am just comfortably floating and very, very relaxed.” Hold this picture for 10 seconds.
- A Black Velvet Hammock – “Try visualizing yourself on a black velvet hammock and everywhere you look it shows black. ” Hold this picture for 10 seconds.
- Say “Don’t Think” – “If that doesn’t work, just say silently ‘don’t think’, ‘don’t think’, don’t think’ so no other thought can creep in.
Note that you only need to use the first technique that works. In other words, if looking up from the canoe on a lake works, then stick with that.
If that technique does not work, then try visualizing a black velvet hammock.
The Last Resort Trick to Stop Thinking
If the first 3 methods don’t work to help you relax mentally and stop your thoughts, then here is a last resort that the authors share to help you quiet your mind so you can fall asleep.
Winter and Lee write:
“The last resort trick I use to block out problem thinking is to close my eyes and imagine I am looking at a blank television screen.
Then I ask myself, ‘What do you see? What do you see?’
Soon things appear on the screen and I describe them to myself.
Amazing scenes produced by my subconscious mind blot out worrisome cares of the real world and soon I am asleep.”
Imagine a Scene with No Movement at All
This might really be a key to making this all work, so I want to call it out in its own section. I noticed that in the original documentation they made a really big deal about 2 things.
They emphasized fully relaxing the eyes, and they emphasized fully relaxing the body, and avoiding anything that might trigger movement of the eyes or of the body.
I noticed that throughout the sleep technique, the trainers really emphasized stillness. They wanted stillness of the body, then stillness of the mind.
And they say that when you can achieve the stillness of the mind for 10 seconds, that sleep is naturally what will follow.
So if you’ve been visualizing active scenes when you try to sleep, and that has not been working, maybe this is your breakthrough idea.
Keep in mind, it’s not just whether you fall asleep, it’s how well you sleep. So maybe too much active visualization helps you sleep, but not deeply or not deep enough.
Winter and Lee write:
“That is because when you think of a scene with motion in it, or dream with muscular activity in the dream, the muscles in that activity actually contract.
We have proven that by putting electrodes on a cadet’s muscles when he was asleep to measure these contractions. His leg muscles contracted.
When he awoke, he told us that he dreamed of running. When I was track coach at the university and watched the javelin throwers in afternoon practice, my legs would tire.
Sometimes, I would watch all of the various track activities and I would get tired all over.”
Why Does This Sleep Technique Make Such a Difference?
Even though it’s obvious when you think about it, I still found it enlightening to make the very direct connection between how well you can relax your body and your brain to how well you can sleep.
Here is a Question & Answer pair that the authors shared that helped me see why this sleep technique is so powerful to help you sleep better, faster, and easier:
Q. I used to sleep 8 hours and wake up tired. Now I sleep 6 hours and wake up ready to tear a telephone book on two. How do you explain this?
A. How do I explain this? Relaxation. You are sleeping more soundly. Your mind is sending out fewer impulses that make your muscles contract while you sleep. Your muscles are now relaxed and resting, not contracting and working.
Here is another Question & Answer pair the authors shared that make it clear how this sleep technique can have dramatic effects on your life:
Q. I struggled at swimming for five weeks before the relaxation course. Thanks to relaxation I finally passed the mile swim test with my clothes on. What happened? Did I get more mileage to my energy, or do I have more energy?
A. As you know, everyone here eats the same, dresses the same, sleeps the same, and even looks the same. We are not slipping you any special pills. What is happening is that your body is operating more efficiently and you are using fewer muscles to do the same tasks. You are literally getting more mileage out of the same amount of gasoline in your tank. Instead of calling it gasoline, however, we should be calling it glycogen, the stuff your muscles run on.
Become Cool, Confident, Wide Awake, Alert, and Relaxed
I found it really helpful to better understand how this sleep technique applies to fighter pilots in the military.
After all, who in the world should care the most about a proven practice to help people sleep and perform their best.
Of course, the military. Planes are incredibly expensive investments. They need to ensure that their people are operating at their highest level.
Here is a Question & Answer pair the authors shared that helped me really understand why this sleep technique was so important for their cadets:
Q. Can you elaborate on how we can apply this relaxation course to flying a plane? You don’t want us sleep do you?
A. When you are flying a plane, we want you cool, confident, wide awake, alert, and relaxed. When you really learn to relax you will be able to do all of these things. You will be able to take the fear out of flying and kill the tension. This will make you more efficient. Also, you won’t be as tired. How would you like to look forward to your flight checks instead of dreading them? These are only a few ways in which this course will help you fly a plane.
Some Things to Know About Insomnia
According to Winter and Lee, here are some key things to know about insomnia:
- If you think you are not going to get to sleep, you won’t.
- If you are worried or anxious about anything, sleep will evade you like a friend who owes you twenty bucks.
- Pangs of conscience will keep you awake.
- Pain can cause sleeplessness. Remember, relaxation can allay pain.
- Although a workout can prepare you for sleep, aches from very hard physical work can keep you awake. Take a hot bath.
- Turning over like a whirling dervish doesn’t induce sleep.
- If you fidget and fret or move any part of your body, you will wake up fatigued–if you can get to sleep.
- Caffeine will keep some people awake, but not those who have learned to relax.
- If you have tense all day, it’s a good bet that it will carry over into the night. Avoid tense living.
- If you fall asleep and then wake up wide-eyed and bushy-tailed after a couple of hours, use your relaxation routine.
- The principal cause of the lack of sleep is you. Fretting, wrestling with sheets, punching pillows, wrinkling pajamas, turns returns, worrying about not sleeping, all qualify as excellent excuses, but they are basically symptoms of the insomnia caused by you.
- The most relaxing kind of sleep is that in which you do not dream, though the latest studies show some periods of dreaming are required for rest and good mental health.
- Recent research shows that concentration on relaxing the muscles that operates the eyes and speech apparatus speeds getting to sleep.
- Sedative might aid sleep, but the more you use them the less you can sleep spontaneously.
- Way back in 1910, Edmund Jacobson demonstrated that when a person relaxes far enough, sleep automatically ensues.
There are a bunch of gems of insight here, but a few things really stood out for me.
Notice how the authors say that relaxation can allay pain. What an interesting angle.
Also notice how they say that even if you drink caffeine, if you build the skill of relaxation, you can still get to sleep (remember, the whole point is “under any condition”).
And that last point about how Edmond Jacobson demonstrated that sleep is automatic if you relax far enough. That’s really one to grow on.
The Answer to All the Sleep Challenges is Always Relaxation
The beauty is that the answer to all the challenges and problems to good sleep keep coming back to one basic idea:
Learn how to relax with skill and that will be the key to your sleep and the key to your success in work and life.
Winter and Lee write:
“The final statement above shows that you must learn to relax far enough.
The antidote for all the problems listed, which stand as huge stones in the path of a good night’s sleep, remains quite simple: use your relaxation techniques to relax mentally and physically.
Good night and pleasant dreams.”
Best wishes for better beauty sleep on demand.
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