Learn to sleep like a soldier

Learn to sleep like a soldier

Sleep is underrated. It should be a major priority in our lives, but it's often the first thing we are willing to sacrifice when our days become too demanding. It’s been widely proven that a lack of sleep can make people more prone to a number of medical conditions, including obesity, hypertension, and heart disease. The average person needs around eight hours of sleep per night, but to many of us that’s an unattainable luxury. You may be able to function on fewer hours, but anything less than six is not recommended.

For connected and high-strung individuals, the challenging part is slowing down and quieting their minds enough to fall asleep. A solution to the endless tossing and turning can be found in quite an unlikely place: the military. Soldiers know a thing or two about high stress situations; they need to sleep when they can, not just when it’s convenient.

Originating from a book titled Relax and Win: Championship Performance by Lloyd Winter, this method was first used by pilots in the U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School. It has since become widely used across the military. Somehow, soldiers have mastered the art of falling asleep in minutes. Nobody is suggesting that your family and work life aren’t intense, but if soldiers can fall asleep on a battlefield then there’s hope for you yet.

Here is how to do it:

  • Get into bed, switch your light off, silence your phone, and have your alarm set for the morning.
  • Relax your facial muscles. First tighten them up in a wincing motion, and then slowly let your muscles naturally loosen.
  • Once your face feels like deflated putty, let gravity pull your shoulders naturally toward the ground. Let your arms dangle too, one side at a time.
  • While doing this, breathe in and out, listening to the sound of your breath. With each breath, let your chest relax further and then let gravity relax your thighs and lower legs.
  • Once your body feels like nothing more than a loosely formed lump of clay, try to clear your mind for 10 seconds. If thoughts come naturally, let them pass. Just focus on keeping your body loose and limp. After a few more seconds your mind should feel clearer.
  • Now visualize yourself in one of these scenarios: 
    - You are lying in a canoe on a calm lake with nothing but blue sky above you.
    - You are lying in a black velvet hammock in a pitch-black room.
    - If you aren’t good at visualization, chant to yourself, “don't think, don’t think, don’t think” repeatedly for ten seconds.

These seemingly simple techniques have been proven to have a very high success rate.  If you’re still having trouble sleeping, start with the basics.

Square one is turning off your electronics. They mess with your circadian rhythm, and essentially trick your body into thinking it’s daytime. Set yourself up for success by making your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep. Work does not belong there. Put up adequate light blocking shades or curtains and ensure the room is cool enough. Considering how much time you will spend on it, purchasing a quality mattress is an absolute must.

Some sleep accessories worth trying include lavender spray, which is used on your pillows and sheets. Studies have shown it to lower your blood pressure and heart rate. A weighted blanket can assist with comfort, and helps relieve anxiety and increase relaxation. Stimulants like nicotine, caffeine and alcohol can destroy the quality of your sleep. However, for those that are a bit more adventurous, marijuana may do the trick. Now that it’s legal for personal use in South Africa, you can try vaping, droplets, or edibles as your potential solution for better sleep.

Ultimately, you need to find a sleep routine that works for you, then follow it. Like the regimented nature of the military, consistency is key.

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