Military Sleep Hack: Can You Really Fall Asleep in 2 Minutes?
Falling asleep in only two minutes — it sounds like a dream. For most Americans, it takes an hour of tossing and turning before we nod off, and this was a serious problems for the U.S. military in the 1940s. When the navy’s high-strung fighter pilots began losing sleep (and making lethal mistakes), they developed a step-by-step technique to ensure their fighting men could relax, snooze, and win. Let’s learn how civilians like you can use the same military sleep hack, and find out why it works so well to block out the stresses that keep us awake at night.
How to Use the Military Technique to Fall Asleep in 2 Minutes
These instructions were originally tailored for naval aviators deployed after World War II, but you don’t have to live on a battleship to follow the steps and achieve deep relaxation.
Stage 1: Relax Your Body From Your Scalp to Your Toes
- Lie or sit down in a position that requires zero effort. Let your chin and arms fall. Become a puddle.
- Breathe slowly and deeply.
- Relax your scalp. Visualize it. Release the wrinkles in your forehead.
- Relax the rest of your facial muscles. Let your jaw sag.
- Visualize your tongue and lips relaxing. Keep breathing easy.
- Let your eyes go limp in their sockets.
- Let your shoulders drop. Visualize the tension dissipating. Let them drop more.
- Relax your chest by taking a deep breath, holding it, then exhaling all of your tension. Repeat this until you feel as light as a cloud.
- Now: your arms. Tell your right bicep to go limp. Then your forearm. Then your hand and fingers. Repeat this with your left arm.
- Now: your legs. Talk to them. Tell them to disappear. Work your way down from your thighs, to your calves, ankles, feet, and toes. Address them each individually until they feel like dead weight.
- Take 3 sequential big breaths, and with each one, release every last bit of remaining tension in your body.
Stage 2: Relax Your Mind
Now that your body is completely free of tension, use one of the following 3 methods to clear your mind of any active thoughts for 10 seconds:
- Imagine it’s a warm spring day. You’re lying in a canoe on a still, clear lake. You’re gazing at a blue sky with cottony clouds. Think of nothing else. Just concentrate on this image, with no thoughts of physical movement, and enjoy the imagination for 10 seconds.
- Imagine you’re lying in a big, black, velvet hammock with nothing but pitch-black darkness around you. Focus on this image for 10 seconds.
- Repeat this mantra to yourself: “don’t think…don’t think…don’t think…” Say it calmly and serenely, blacking out all other thoughts for at least 10 seconds.
At this point, you should have achieved deep physical and mental relaxation, then be able to slip across the threshold into full-on, lights out, military-grade sleep.
Of course, this technique may take some practice. It may feel awkward getting your muscles to relax. But keep at it. Allegedly, 96% of people who employ the technique for 6 weeks are then able to fall asleep within 2 minutes of closing their eyes.
Whatever you do though, DON’T try to work hard and force yourself to relax. This defeats the purpose of loosening up and releasing your tension. Instead, give yourself a few sessions to practice. Then, you’ll reap the sleep benefits of complete and utter relaxation.
Origins of the Military Sleep Hack
Sometime during World War II, the U.S. military discovered a problem. The unimaginable stresses of aerial combat were causing pilots to frazzle at the seams. These high-stakes battles turned a handful of men into legends — as best illustrated in James Salter’s iconic novel, The Hunters, which every man should read. Yet other pilots began to crack. They couldn’t sleep at night, and soon the military brass had to find ways to prevent them from making deadly mistakes.
One naval ensign had the solution. Prior to the war, Lloyd “Bud” Winter had been a football and track coach at Hartnell College in California, where he’d worked with psychology professors to develop uncanny relaxation techniques for his sprinters.
The techniques worked. Over Winter’s long coaching career before and after the war, his athletes used these relaxation methods that "allowed the speed to come out,” producing a litany of national champions, Olympic gold medalists, and world-record holders. They were also the exact same hacks he taught to fighter pilots at the Del Monte Naval Pre-Flight School.
The course he produced ensured these young pilots had a method for relaxing their minds, and falling asleep in as little as 2 minutes in any environment, combat or otherwise. The methods remained hidden from the public until 1981, when Winter published his iconic book, Relax & Win, and detailed the method that had helped countless fighter pilots and sprinters loosen up, wind down, and get the sleep their bodies desperately needed.
Civilian Sleeper Testimonials
The military sleep hack doesn’t only work for mad-dog aviators and Olympic athletes. Zoomers on TikTok have claimed startlingly positive results, along with a handful of folks on Reddit. One user claimed:
This has been working very well for me the past 5 days. Usually I take 30-90 minutes to fall asleep, with tons of tossing and turning. I've frankly been ***** shocked the past few days because I fall asleep in about 3-8 minutes with this.
Of course, many users express skepticism, claiming that the key to “military sleep” is to be dead tired after waking up at 4AM, doing 200 pushups and squat thrusts, and marching 20 miles with a 40lb pack. Curiously however, it’s difficult to find anyone on the Internet who claims actually to have tried the technique and found it didn’t work.
Did it work for us on the Hibernate Sleep Team?
We can’t say! We’ve tried the military sleep hack and found it to be a strong addition to any good sleep hygiene routine. Yet, we have an advantage: we already use a secret sleep aid that works like a charm, every night.
Why Does This Military Technique Work So Well?
The military sleep hack works so beautifully because it negates the #1 factor that causes most people to lie awake at night: excess nervous system stimuli.
It’s often hard to understand the degree to which our modern lifestyles impede brain function at night:
- Electric light can disrupt melatonin production for hours;
- External noise (leaky faucets or traffic) prevent you from falling into deep-sleep stages;
- Email and Twitter notifications cause brain hyperactivity that lasts for hours.
If we could all lead stress-free lives in which our brains naturally relax at sunset, we wouldn’t need special techniques to fall asleep. But in a word where artificial stress is never-ending, bringing out the big guns can help.
In fact, Stage 1 of the military sleep hack — relaxing your body from your scalp to your toes — bears a striking resemblance to a classic meditation and mindfulness technique. It should be recognizable to anyone who’s used guided meditations like Brain.FM.
Consider the technique as your own form of sleep meditation, just without any woo woo spirituality. Not there’s anything wrong with that. There’s a reason why the greatest of the Japanese samurai considered Zen meditation essential to their warrior ethos.
Other Awesome Sleep Hacks (No Military Service Required)
If you find the military technique isn’t effective, or if you’re not willing to give it 6 weeks, then you might find one of the following unconventional sleep hacks much easier.
1. Read with a Kindle Paperwhite
Reading fiction before bed is the easiest possible way to relax your mind. Unlike nonfiction, self-help, or textbooks which actively keep you awake, fiction hijacks your subconscious and deletes stress and racing thoughts. We recommend fantasy or James Bond novels — the easier to read, the better.
However, reading with the lights on, or using an LED screen like an iPad, is an effective way NOT to fall asleep. Electric light, after all, is poison for your sleep hormones.
Solution: the Kindle Paperwhite.
The Paperwhite’s E-ink display doesn’t pummel your optic nerves with blue light. You can read in bed, in the dark, and just slide it under your pillow when you nod off.
Trust us, it works. Every member of the Hibernate Sleep Team reads on a Paperwhite every single night. It’s the most underrated sleep hack in existence.
2. One Hour of Darkness
We all know those rare, magical people who can fall asleep with every light in the house blazing. They’re mutants, and not at all normal.
For the rest of us, our primal, nocturnal hormones are deeply intertwined with the rising and setting of the sun. We evolved this way. When the world goes dark, it signals to our brains that it’s time to start relaxing and producing melatonin.
Electric lightbulbs and iPhones, however, completely halt this process. (Really, the modern world is dangerously unhealthy, despite it’s conveniences.)
Solution: Give yourself one hour of darkness before you want to be fully asleep. Bumble around with nightlights on. Relax on the couch and read on your Kindle Paperwhite. Heck, you can even watch TV, as long as you turn off the ambient lights (and don’t stare at your phone).
In as little as 30 minutes, you’ll start yawning naturally. That’s the magic of your body working in sync with the sun. When darkness falls, your body responds. Give it the darkness it needs to manufacture sleep.
3. Brain Nutrition
Sleep is a complicated hormonal process. It requires a whole pile of vitamins, minerals, and neurotransmitters to work properly. You probably know that the hormonal “sleep cascade” is governed by melatonin, for example.
But where does melatonin come from?
At night, when your optic nerve registers darkness, it kickstarts a chain of biochemical conversions that looks like this:
Protein ➡️ L-Tryptophan ➡️ 5-HTP ➡️ Seratonin ➡️ Melatonin
This is just one of thousands of interwoven processes occuring in your brain every night. If they function well, you sleep like a baby. But if you have trouble falling asleep, or feel dog tired in the morning, it means some of these processes aren’t functioning well…or aren’t functioning at all.
Solution: Hibernate Sleep Formula
The key to keeping your hormones flowing lies in a few simple, but powerful ingredients: magnesium, zinc, and vitamin D.
In sufficient dosages, these three nutrient MVPs ensure that your neurotransmitters and receptors work like a symphony. Then, when you combine them with a microdose of melatonin — and the military sleep hack — it’s a perfect recipe for falling asleep easily, staying asleep all night, and waking up full of energy in the morning.
This natural sleep stack changed our lives. It cured our insomnia, and taught us that healthy human beings don’t need drugs to fall asleep. They just need to give their brains the ingredients it needs to manufacture natural sleep.
Conclusion on the Military Sleep Hack
When he taught this technique to naval aviators in the 40s, Bud Winter probably had no idea that civilians like you would find it helpful eight decades later. But if it worked for fighter pilots and Olympic sprinters back then, you can bet your butt it’ll work for us today.
It may take some practice — up to 6 weeks. But once you learn to completely and utterly relax your body, then completely and utterly relax your mind…sleep will come.
Combine Coach Winter’s military technique with good sleep hygiene and proper brain nutrition, and we’re certain you’ll have a fighting chance against insomnia.