The Relaxation Technique that Instantly Improves Your Sleep Habits


I've written at length about the importance of healthy sleep habits. Sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your health, mentally and physically. Not only does a good night's sleep work towards improving heart health and repairing the brain, but it can alleviate symptoms of stress and depression. 

We all know how important sleep is. That doesn't mean, however, that it always comes when want it to. We all have bouts of insomnia, have difficulty sleeping in strange places, or are too bothered by noise and racing thoughts to get any shuteye. In fact, the American Sleep Association (ASA) estimates that between 50 and 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder of some kind.

If you've ever had trouble falling asleep, you know how frustrating and exhausting it can be. The good news? You don't have to wrestle with sleeplessness. This simple relaxation technique will have you asleep in minutes.


How to Fall Asleep Anywhere in Two Minutes

The secret to falling asleep anywhere (and I mean anywhere), including in cars, crowds, and airports, was long-held by the U.S. military. Documented in the 1981 book Relax and Win: Championship Performance, this technique has resurfaced and grown in popularity among the general population.

Originally, this technique was developed to help military men and women fall asleep in less-than-ideal circumstances. Whether they had to sleep sitting up, in the midst of noise, disruption, or a busy mind, the idea was that a guaranteed good night's sleep would reduce the number of mistakes made due to tiredness. 

We know that a lack of quality sleep does impact performance. In fact, a Harvard study showed that workers lose on average 11 days of productivity to sleep issues. Furthermore, another study demonstrated that American businesses lost $411 billion to productivity problems due guessed it...sleep issues.

So what's the solution?

Three Steps to Quick Sleep

1) Relax

The first step in this military-proven technique is to relax your muscles, beginning with your face. We hold more tension in our bodies than we often think, particularly here. So start with unclenching your jaw, unfocusing your eyes, and relaxing your brow. The idea then is to work downward.

Relax your shoulders, dropping them down as far as you're able. Allow your arms to follow suit: drop them down. At this point, engage step two (deep breathing) but continue the process of relaxing your whole body.

Relax your chest and back. Get rid of the tension you're holding in your hips and legs, all the way down to your feet. 

2) Breathe Deep

Deep breathing is important for kicking off your sleep cycle. The National Sleep Foundation recommends focusing on deep "belly" breathing as a way to ease insomnia. When we're stressed, our breath tends to be short and shallow. By deep breathing, you lull your body into a state of relaxation. Focus on your breathing.

3) Visualize

Last, the military sleep technique involves visualization. You are to try to clear your mind for at least ten seconds (I recommend focusing and thinking about your deep breathing to do this) before visualizing one of the three following scenarios: 

  • You're lying down in a canon on a calm lake, looking up at a clear blue sky. 

  • You're wrapped up in a black velvet hammock in a pitch-dark room.

  • You repeat "don't think, don't think, don't think," to yourself for roughly ten seconds.

They say that for those who employ this technique for at least six weeks, it is 96 percent effective. That's pretty incredible!

Naturally, it can take some mastery of this technique before it truly works. One would think that relaxation is the most important part of falling asleep quickly, but studies actually show that a clear mind is the biggest contributing factor to quick, sound sleep.

Racing and anxious thoughts and that feeling of being unable to "turn off" can prevent you from sleeping more than anything else. There's no magic bullet for turning off a busy mind. Everyone is different. You might be soothed by a hot bath, a good book, or a mindless sitcom episode. Regardless, taking time to decompress and prepare for bed before you're ready to sleep is crucial to calming your thoughts and preparing for restful sleep. 

What techniques help you sleep on tough nights? Tell me your strategies in the comments.