How to Fall Asleep in Minutes
A step-by-step guide to the military sleep method for a better night’s rest
If the moment your head hits the pillow is your mind’s cue to start racing, the military sleep method might help ease your insomnia.
The method, developed by the military in World War II and popularized today on social media, is based on the “gold standard” for battling insomnia with relaxation, says Kori Ascher, DO, a sleep medicine specialist at the University of Miami Health System’s comprehensive sleep center.
The military sleep method is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI). It’s similar to research-based methods of training your body to relax at bedtime. “The goal is to change negative associations with sleep that perpetuate insomnia,” says Dr. Ascher.
With practice, the military sleep method can help you quiet your racing thoughts and fall asleep within minutes. The technique is meant to help soldiers who need to sleep in short sprints, even amidst chaos and stressful circumstances.
Dr. Ascher, who is also a critical care specialist, says the state of world events and tragedies can be a source of stress-related insomnia. “The only time you’re alone with your thoughts is the moment you get into bed. You have time to think about everything, and that’s very counterproductive for sleep.”
This makes relaxation techniques like the military sleep method particularly helpful for those struggling to quiet the mind at bedtime.
“You’re keeping your mind preoccupied with something that effectively supports what you’re trying to achieve rather than working against you,” says Dr. Ascher.
Here’s a simple guide to the military sleep method:
- Relax your body: Starting at the top of your head, focus on relaxing your entire body, one muscle group at a time. Tense each muscle group for a few seconds and then release the tension, allowing the muscles to relax completely.
- Focus on breathing: Once your body is relaxed, concentrate on your breathing. Breathe slowly and deeply through your nose, hold your breath for a few moments and then exhale slowly and completely through your mouth. This controlled breathing helps calm the nervous system.
- Clear your mind: As you focus on your breath, try to clear your mind of distracting thoughts. If your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
- Visualize a relaxing place: Picture a peaceful scene, such as a beach, forest or favorite vacation spot.
- Remain still: If possible, keep your body still and avoid unnecessary movements.
All these steps help signal to your body that it’s time to wind down and enter a state of rest.
What are the most common sleep problems?
Patients most commonly visit the UHealth sleep center for two reasons, says Dr. Ascher: hypersomnia or insomnia. Hypersomnia is excessive daytime sleepiness. Insomnia is the inability to sleep at night.
Causes of insomnia are multifactorial.
The following are some common causes of insomnia:
- Medical conditions: Sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea are a common cause of insomnia. Men and women present different symptoms of sleep apnea. Men typically complain of snoring at night and feeling overtired during the day. For women, the most common symptom of sleep apnea is insomnia.
- Poor sleep hygiene: Sleep hygiene is an umbrella term for disruptive habits that vary for each person, such as having a cell phone by the bed or falling asleep with the television on.
- Mood disorders: Depression, anxiety, PTSD, and excessive worrying can cause disordered sleep. Thoughts that perpetuate anxiety, anger and frustration can cause a negative feedback loop of emotions that prevent you from sleeping well.
- Age and stage: As you age, your body’s circadian rhythms become less forgiving of insults like staying up all night for work or travel. Hormonal fluctuations, especially in women during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause, can also affect sleep patterns.
- Caffeine and stimulants: Consuming caffeine or other stimulants close to bedtime can interfere with sleep. Certain medications that contain stimulants may contribute to insomnia as a side effect.
Preparing for sleep leads to better sleep hygiene
Preparing your body for sleep makes it easier to relax at bedtime. Dr. Ascher offers the following six tips for the military sleep method to work best.
Maintain a consistent bedtime and wake up time
Sleep thrives on routine. Having a consistent bedtime and wake up time seven days a week leads to better nights’ sleep, no matter how much you sleep in that duration.
Develop a sleep routine
Winding down at the same time each night with consistent activities before bed can help you fall asleep more quickly. The time before bed you start your routine, whether it’s 60, 90 or 120 minutes, doesn’t matter. The key is to have a similar relaxing routine each night, such as reading a book, stretching or sipping a hot drink. Practicing similar evening activities signals to your body that it’s time to settle down. “What you include in that routine is tailored to you, but avoid anything you find emotionally triggering, like the news,” says Dr. Ascher.
Practice good sleep hygiene
A comfortable sleep environment, such as a cool, dark room, signals to your body that it’s time to relax. Opening in the shades in the morning can have the opposite effect, helping your body to stop secreting melatonin and wake up.
Try a hot shower or bath
Hot water running over your body relaxes the mind and physiologically induces sleep. The hot water causes systemic vasodilation, which widens your vessels. This lowers your core body temperature, telling your brain it’s time to release melatonin –– the hormone that helps manage your body’s circadian rhythms.
Avoid negative associations with sleep
Laying in bed frustrated over a lack of sleep can be counterproductive to falling asleep. It seems counterintuitive, but getting up when you can’t sleep helps you avoid associating your bedroom with insomnia. Read, stretch or even watch an old rerun until you feel tired again. “You want to break that association of worrying and negative feelings with the bedroom,” says Dr. Ascher.
Avoid social jet lag
If you struggle to fall asleep at night, staying up late and sleeping in on weekends might work against you. That’s because variability in your sleep schedule can confuse your body about when to be tired. “If you’re having social jetlag, you’re creating disturbances in the release of melatonin. It likes to be at the same time every night,” says Dr. Ascher.
With patience, establishing a sleep routine can eventually improve your body’s ability to fall asleep faster and stay asleep for the duration of time in bed. Most of all, Dr. Ascher encourages realistic expectations for improving sleep. “None of this is magic. But all these little things together help set the stage for better sleep over time.”
Wendy Margolin is a contributor to UHealth’s news service.