Sleep. We all crave it, especially on weekends. But do we ever get enough of it? If you are like the majority of most Americans, the answer is no. And when you are going thru Selection, it is a fair bet that you will not be enjoying the eight hours of slumber that doctors say everyone should have. But truth be told, some of us, (raises hand) have been living on 5-6 hours sleep max for the past 40 years.
And some people have a heck of a time falling asleep, even when they are mentally and physically exhausted. For many of us old hands from the military that was never an issue. We can drop off and fall asleep immediately and catch a catnap just about anywhere.
It has been a never-ending source of irritation for my wife that I was able to nod off anywhere, at any time when the opportunity availed itself to me. In a crowded airport waiting for a plane? No problem. Stuck in traffic, with someone else driving? Please. And many soldiers are quite similar. It comes with the territory. But if you aren’t one of those few…those lucky few…where have I heard that before? What then? Are they cursed for a lifetime of insomnia?
Nope. Now there is a not-so-new method that will let you fall asleep within two minutes and stay asleep longer during the night. And it comes to you courtesy of the U.S. military. During World War II, naval aviators were hard pressed to get enough sleep between missions.
The Navy brought in author and college football and track coach Bud Winter who was an Ensign during the early war years, to teach their Naval aviators how to properly relax, thus making it easier for them to fall asleep faster.
Winter before the war had partnered with a psychology professor to teach college athletes how to relax and therefore improve their performances while under the stress of competition. The Navy, having too many accidents in the aviation field, decided that Winter was the man to help them on both counts.
Winter’s system is comprised of two parts. The first was to teach the pilots how to properly physically relax and the second was to teach them how to mentally relax. This would accomplish several things and each is applicable to the aspiring Special Operations candidate. It will help them sharpen their focus, speed up their reaction time, limit their fear and then help them fall asleep in 120 seconds or less.
In his book, Relax and Win, Winter described the process of how to properly physically relax and do so quickly.
“Sit back in your chairs and put your feet flat on the deck. Knees apart, your hands limp on the inside of your lap. Now, close your eyes and drop your chin until it rests on your chest.
Let’s breathe slowly, deeply, and regularly. Take all the wrinkles out of your forehead. Relax your scalp. Just let go. Now let your jaw sag-g-g. Let it drop open. Now relax the rest of your face muscles. Get the brook trout look on your face. Even relax your tongue and lips. Just let them go loose. Breathe slowly.
Now, let’s go after the eight muscles that control your eyes. Let them go limp in their sockets. No focus, just let them go limp. Breathe slowly.
Now drop your shoulders as low as they will go. You think that they are low, but let them go more. Did you feel the muscles in the back of your neck go limp? When you think you are really relaxed, let them go even more.
Now, let’s relax your chest. Take a deep breath. Hold it. Exhale and blow out all your tensions. Just let your chest collapse. Let it sag-g-g. Imagine you are a big, heavy blob on the chair, a jellyfish. Breathe slowly. When you exhale, release more and more of your tensions.
Let’s go after your arms. Talk directly to your arm muscles. First, talk to your right bicep. Tell it to relax, go limp. Do the same to your right forearm. Now to the right hand and fingers. Your arm should feel like a dead weight on your leg. Repeat the relaxation process with your left arm. Breathe slowly.
Your entire upper body has been exposed to relaxation and a warm, pleasant feeling comes over you. You feel good. A sense of well-being invades your body.
Now for your lower body. Talk to your right thigh muscles. Let them go to a dead weight on the chair. Let the meat hang on the bones. Go through the same routine for the right calf muscles. Then all the muscles of your right ankle and foot. Tell yourself that your right leg has no bones in it. It is just a flabby, heavy weight on the deck. Repeat the process with your left thigh, calf, ankle, and foot.
At present you are all relaxed physically, or think you are. For a little insurance, let’s take three deep breaths and when you let them out, blow out all the remaining tensions, one . . . whoosh, two . . . whoosh, three . . . whoosh.”
From here, going from a very relaxed physical state to a deep sleep now required the pilots to get into a relaxed mental state. The key he said is to stop the train of thoughts running thru your head for at least ten seconds.
He says to cease any thought of physical activity because the studies he conducted showed that even thoughts about exercise would cause muscles to contract and thus keep a person awake. He suggested three still thoughts to help the pilots to relax. He lists them in the book:
“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 ten 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 ten 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 ten seconds.”
And before you pooh-pooh this practice as a bunch of hooey, during the war, Winter broke up two groups of cadets in the Navy’s aviation school in California. One group went thru the relaxation techniques. The other did not. The first group outperformed the second group in every mental or physical task given to them. After a six-week course, 96 percent of the class could fall asleep in under two minutes, anywhere, at any time even after drinking coffee.
After the war, Winter brought his relaxation technique to the track and field college ranks and he became the guru of sprinters coaches in the United States. He trained over 100 All-Americans, 27 Olympians and at the time of his retirement, his runners owned 10 world records.
If any of our readers are attending a Selection class in the next few months, I’d be very interested in hearing if they’re interested in learning and trying this technique and if they find it useful. Not only in falling asleep but in performing better mentally as well. Because as we all know, after carrying the Sandman and ammo boxes for 12 miles, falling asleep won’t be too hard that night.
Originally published on Special Operations.com