Featured Stories

How to Fall Asleep in 120 Seconds

Trouble sleeping? Here’s a military-tested trick for guaranteed slumber

Sharon Ackman
Jul 13, 2018 · 5 min read
Photo by Jon Robinson on Unsplash

Listen to this story



When you’re on military exercise, sleep is a luxury. Maybe you can only snatch a few hours each day. So there’s nothing so frustrating as lying in your sleeping bag with your eyes closed, waiting for something to happen.

You’re totally exhausted. You have to be up in three hours for picket. You’re distracted by the noises around you. There’s a rock jutting into your hip bone. Or you’re replaying the day’s events on repeat in your head.

If you don’t sleep, you’ll burn out pretty quickly. You’ll make bad decisions. You’ll let people down and become a liability.

That’s what happened with U.S. fighter pilots in World War II. The U.S. military realized many of its pilots were making terrible, avoidable decisions due to stress and the resulting sleeplessness. Shooting down friendlies. Being shot down themselves. Even when pilots clocked off, they couldn’t relax and they couldn’t sleep. So their stress and fatigue built up, till they made a fatal error.

No one wants to be that guy.

Luckily, you never have to be. The U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School developed a scientific method to fall asleep day or night, in any conditions, in under two minutes. After six weeks of practice, 96 percent of pilots could fall asleep in two minutes or less. Even after drinking coffee, with machine gunfire being played in the background.

Which means if you follow these steps, falling asleep will be a piece of cake.

Work with the real estate you have

In the training, the pilots were taught to fall asleep while sitting upright in a chair. Which is a tough position to sleep in when you’re feeling restless. It’s why the airlines invented business class. But it was all the pilots needed. Sitting back in the chairs, they put their feet flat, and let their hands go limp against their laps. So remember a sleeping mat or room to lay down is a bonus. Work with the real estate you’ve got, knowing a humble seat will do.

Your face is the key to slowing down everything

Your eyes are shut, but you want to make sure they are totally limp. Do this by letting them fall deep into your socket. There are six muscles that control your socket; feel them relax and go lifeless.

When you relax your face and let your eye sockets go limp, you signal to the rest of your body it’s time to unwind.

Send your upper body south

Breathe in deeply. Then exhale slowly, blowing out all of the tension.

Next are your arms. Start with your dominant side. If you’re right-handed, focus on your right bicep. Feel it relax and drop down your body. If it’s not relaxing, tense it first, then let it go loose.

Then move to your right forearm. Focus on sending it limp. Finally, comes your hand and fingers. Let them fall like a dead weight against your leg. When you’ve finished with your dominant side, work through the process with your other arm.

Your upper body should be nice and limp, like it’s sinking into you. You’re more than halfway there.

What to say to your legs

Repeat the process with the left leg, talking to your thigh, then your calf, then your ankle and foot.

Now you have unwound, relaxing every muscle in your body from your face to your feet. There’s just one more thing you need to do to turn your relaxed state into deep sleep.

How to not think about anything

Instead, you need to keep your mind still. You can do this by holding a static image in your head. Imagine you are lying on a comfy couch, in a pitch black room. Hold this image in your mind for 10 seconds.

If that doesn’t work, say the words “don’t think … don’t think … don’t think” over and over for at least 10 seconds. This will clear out any thoughts and stop your brain from wandering.

When you’re physically relaxed and your mind is still for at least 10 seconds, you’ll be asleep.

Imagine being able to fall asleep almost instantly. No matter how many things are going on around you, or how on edge you feel. Being able to block out all that background noise. Knowing how to slow down your body, switch off your mind, and give yourself permission to reset. Turning five minutes of downtime into guaranteed slumber.

Everything will be easier. Your mind will be clearer. Your decisions will be better. You’ll have more energy, and you’ll be able to push your body further, day after day.

While others are wriggling around, fixating on uneven terrain or the loud snorer, you’ll have a combat-tested system for sleep. One that will keep you sharp, constant, and on top of your game.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store