I’ve always been a terrible sleeper. Despite my best efforts, my nighttime routine basically consists of tossing and turning for upwards of 45 minutes before eventually dozing off into a restless sleep.
Over the years, I’ve tried a bunch of different tricks to try to get myself to fall asleep a little easier. Lavender oils —which have been touted an effective relaxer for their soothing scent — didn’t help. Quitting coffee cold turkey only made me grumpy. Meditation apps helped me wind down after a stressful day, but didn’t actually get me to sleep easier. And melatonin supplements, while sometimes effective, weren’t a practical long-term solution.
After all that, I couldn’t help but be intrigued when I heard of an old military hack that reportedly helps you fall asleep in 2 minutes
According to men’s lifestyle site Joe, the US military uses this method to help service members fall asleep in 120 seconds, no matter how stressful or uncomfortable the environment.
Here’s how it works: Start by closing your eyes (duh) and relaxing all the muscles in your face, from your forehead to your jaw. Continue consciously moving down the rest of your body, easing your shoulders, back, arms and hands, and, eventually, your legs and feet.
After that, take about 10 seconds for some deep, slow breathing and try to clear your mind. When you feel calm, do one of the three following things:
- Picture lying in a canoe on a calm lake with blue sky above you.
- Envision snuggling a black velvet hammock in a pitch-black room.
- Repeat “don’t think, don’t think” for 10 seconds.
The technique, first outlined in Lloyd Bud Winter’s 1981 book “Relax and Win: Championship Performance,” reportedly has a 96% success rate after six weeks of practice. But could it work for me, considering my sleeplessness has defied many other suggested forms of relaxation? Spoiler alert: It did — sort of.
In full disclosure, I only practiced the military trick for a little over a week rather the month-plus that the book suggests. But even in that short amount of time, I noticed a pretty significant difference in the time it took for me to fall asleep.
The first night didn’t go well, although I had admittedly high expectations
As much as I tried to focus on one of the suggested mental images, my mind kept wandering to other things — that work deadline I had coming up or that news article I had just read. After over half an hour of trying to relax, I finally gave up and did exactly the opposite of what you’re supposed to do: I reached for my phone.
Experts advise you to avoid screen time before bed because the blue light from electronics can trick your mind into thinking it’s daytime and make you more alert at night. Despite knowing this, I sometimes end up caving to the lure of Twitter or Instagram, especially on particularly long, restless nights. That’s how night number one of this experiment turned out, and I ended up getting barely any sleep.
After that, I decided to double down on my commitment by moving my phone away from my nightstand
I figured putting it out of arm’s reach would be best, because, let’s face it: Once I’m in bed, I’m not getting back up to get it. While getting rid of technological temptation didn’t make any notable difference on night two or night three, night four finally brought me some results.
After several consecutive nights of practicing the method outlined in Winter’s book, I suddenly realized I was getting to a relaxed state significantly faster than I could on night one
Not only could I calm my mind, but I was also able to pull up one of the suggested mental pictures in my brain and zero in on it.
That same night (number four, for anyone who’s counting), I actually fell asleep a bit faster than before. No, still not in two minutes. But, instead of tossing and turning for nearly an hour, I dozed off after about 25 minutes — almost half the time it would normally take me to get to sleep.
And it wasn’t a fluke. With the exception of one night (preceding a particularly stressful day), it consistently took between 20 and 30 minutes for me to fall asleep for the next 4 nights.
One night, it even took closer to 15 minutes! That may not seem like a big deal — especially since it’s still far from the two minutes in which the hack promises to work — but it’s virtually unheard of for me.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fall asleep in two minutes. Even if I continue practicing this method (which I intend to), I seriously doubt it. But using this technique has helped me figure out a way to wind down and calm my generally anxious mind so that I can fall asleep significantly faster. It also forced me to rethink some of my less-healthy nighttime habits, like reaching for my phone or turning on the TV in an attempt to stave off my restlessness.
Although I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to keep up my new routine every single night, it’s good to have a new tool to refer back to when I’m in one of those particularly busy no-sleep seasons of life
With that in mind, I encourage fellow non-sleepers to try this hack for themselves — it could make a difference. And if you’re one of the 4% of people who it doesn’t work for (remember, it takes consistent practice), there are some other potentially helpful tips you can try.
In addition to putting away phones, laptops, and other screens before bed, the National Sleep Foundation suggests keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet; avoiding naps during the day; exercising daily; and establishing a regular bedtime and wake-up time.