For a lucky few, sleeping comes almost as naturally as breathing. But for most of us, falling asleep can often take far longer than we'd like. If counting sheep or even taking melatonin supplements doesn't always do the trick, it's worth trying a technique developed by the U.S. military to help soldiers fall asleep, even in stressful or uncomfortable situations.
The Bud Winter Technique
The technique was first detailed in 1981's Relax and Win: Championship Performance, and was developed by naval ensign Bud Winter to ensure soldiers got enough rest, and thus would not be cognitively impaired during combat operations.
The technique itself is incredibly simple, and according to a military study, it reportedly works for 96% of sleepers after six weeks of practice. Here's how to do it:
- Scrunch up all of the muscles in your face, and then relax them all at once, letting your eyes droop, your cheeks fall, and even your tongue rest inside your mouth.
- Drop your shoulders as far as you can, and then relax all of the muscles in your upper arm, and then all of the muscles in your lower arm, and then all of the muscles in your hand and fingers, one arm at a time.
- While breathing slowly and deeply (more on that in a moment), relax the muscles in your chest, followed by your legs and feet. By now, every muscle in your body should be limp.
- Now, it's time to visualize something peaceful for 10 seconds, after which, with enough practice, you should reliably be asleep. Here are the three possible visualizations that Winter himself suggests:
First, we want you to fantasize that it is a warm spring day and you are lying in the bottom of a canoe on a very serene lake. You are looking up at a blue sky with lazy, floating clouds. Do not allow any other thought to creep in. Just concentrate on this picture and keep foreign thoughts out, particularly thoughts with any movement or motion involved. Hold this picture and enjoy it for 10 seconds.
In the second sleep-producing fantasy, imagine that you are in a big, black, velvet hammock and everywhere you look is black. You must also hold this picture for 10 seconds.
The third trick is to say the words "don't think ... don't think ... don't think," etc. Hold this, blanking out other thoughts for at least 10 seconds.
The technique probably won't work the first time you try it, or even the second or third, but with enough practice, there's a good chance it will work for you, whether you're in your own bed, in an unfamiliar hotel room, or even sitting in an airplane seat.
Help With Breathing
One of the most important aspects of the technique, and of getting to sleep generally, is deep, slow breathing. If you struggle with this aspect of winding down at the end of the day, a unique product called Dodow might be the answer.
Dodow is a small, battery powered puck that sits on your nightstand, and projects a dim blue light onto the ceiling of your bedroom. As the circle of light slowly gets bigger and brighter, you breath in. After a pause, it'll start dimming and shrinking even more slowly, which is your signal to slowly exhale. By synchronizing your breathing with the light, and by focusing on your breathing rather than on whatever stresses keep you up at night, it can help you clear your mind and relax your muscles for sleep, whether you're employing Bud Winter's method or not.
Cleverly, Dodow activates just by touching anywhere on the top of the puck, so you won't have to fumble around for buttons while you're trying to relax. It's also small enough to toss into a suitcase to take with you anywhere, which can be particularly useful if you're combating jetlag.
It should go without saying, but while Dodow, the Bud Winter method, or a combination of both can help most people get to sleep faster, don't be afraid to seek medical advice if you suffer from chronic insomnia to the point that if affects your day-to-day life.
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