Falling asleep is a pain point for many of us. Tossing and turning – and spending the next day feeling like a walking zombie – is something we all dread.
That’s likely why a technique that promises to help you fall asleep in two minutes flat has gone viral.
The technique was originally described in the book Relax and Win: Championship Performance by Lloyd Bud Winter, first published in 1981, but it recently came back into the limelight thanks to a viral TikTok video from Justin Agustin.
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His video, which walks you through how to perform the technique, has racked up over 10 million views since it was posted in January.
What is the military sleep method?
In the video, Agustin says the trick was developed in the military, as a way for soldiers to fall asleep anywhere, anytime.
The tactic allows you “to calm your body and systematically relax and shut down each part of your body from head to toe, literally”, he said, by following these steps:
Augustin demonstrates relaxing every muscle in the body, starting with the forehead and working your way down to your toes.
“Start by relaxing the muscles in your forehead. Relax your eyes, your cheeks, your jaw and focus on your breathing. Now, go down to your neck and your shoulders,” he added.
“Make sure your shoulders are not tensed up. Drop them as low as you can and keep your arms loose to your sides, including your hands and fingers.”
Then, he instructs us to imagine a warm sensation going from the top of your head to your fingertips.
Begin taking deep breaths, relaxing the muscles from your chest down to your feet, and then reimagine that warm sensation, but this time going from your heart all the way down to your toes.
Make sure your shoulders and hands stay relaxed and take deep breaths, exhaling slowly.
Clear your mind:
“Now while you’re doing this, it’s really important to clear your mind of any stresses,” added Agustin, encouraging you to think of two scenarios: lying in a canoe surrounded by only clear lake water or lying in a black velvet hammock in a pitch-black room.
“At any time when you start thinking of anything else or you start getting distracted, repeat these words for 10 seconds: ‘Don’t think. Don’t think. Don’t think’,” he said.
If done right, this technique can help you fall asleep faster – but you have to practise.
According to Agustino, if you practise this every night for six weeks, you should be able to fall asleep within two minutes of closing your eyes.
Can you really train yourself to fall asleep?
This technique may sound too good to be true.
But according to Sanjiv Kothare, sleep specialist and head of pediatric neurology at Cohen Children’s Medical Centre in New York, it is possible to train yourself to fall asleep faster using this technique.
Training your brain to fall asleep faster is “cognitive behavioural therapy and what’s being shown in that video is exactly what I do with my patients,” Dr Kothare said.
He said there are two important principles to keep in mind when training your brain to fall asleep.
- Don’t try to fall asleep when you’re not tired. Make you are “physically tired or feeling sleepy,” he said. “Of course, this doesn’t apply to armed forces trying to sleep at times under stress.”
- Practise sleep restriction. “In a conventional patient with insomnia, we say don’t go into bed early and go to bed only for falling asleep,” Dr Kothare said. “Don’t do other activities like reading a book or watching TV, those things are sleep associations and not good. The bed should be associated only with sleep.”
“Once you’re ready to fall asleep, dim the lights so that melatonin starts surging, close your eyes, breathe with your mouth, focus on your abdomen and do exactly what is shown in that video, which is relax your entire body, get some pleasant thoughts in your mind, imagine darkness,” Dr Kothare said.
Dr Kothare also agrees that for the racing mind, repeating ‘don’t think, don’t think’ is a way to replace or quiet competing thoughts.
“Eventually you learn to welcome that and hopefully fall asleep,” Dr Kothare said.
“It’s a programmed way of thinking. You need to program your brain to relax and over a period of time, it will learn to relax.”
And you may start to see the effects even sooner than six weeks.
“Six weeks may be generous … I think within two weeks you’ll start seeing the effect,” Dr Kothare said.
“But the most important thing is motivation; you want to be motivated to fall asleep. If you do it without motivation, it’s not going to work.”