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The ‘military method’ – How to fall asleep in 120 seconds or less

Posted on April 25th, 2023

Do you often feel like you spend more time trying to fall asleep than you do sleeping? If so, you’re not alone. 

When you can’t sleep, the anxiety you feel about not falling asleep can create a cycle of nervous energy that keeps you alert. 

And if your mind can’t calm down, your body can’t either. But certain tricks rooted in science and used by the military can help you overcome this battle and fall asleep in 120 seconds or less. 

How pilots fall asleep in 120 seconds or less 

When you’re in the military, sleep isn’t always guaranteed. Depending on the training or exercise that’s going on, you may get only a few hours of sleep each day. And if you spend any of that time tossing and turning, you could get even less. 

Therefore, if you’re in the military, you need to fall asleep fast. If you don’t, you could become a liability. You could make bad decisions or mistakes that could cost your life or the lives of others. 

Back during World War II, the U.S. military saw its pilots making poor decisions, which lead to mistakes that could have been avoided had the pilots been less stressed and better rested. 

As a result, the United States Navy Pre-Flight School came up with a routine that would help pilots fall asleep in 120 seconds or less. The pilots had to practice the routine for six weeks. But the training was a success. Even after having caffeine and with gunfire in the background, the pilots could fall asleep in just a minute or two. 

Here’s how the routine worked: 

  1. Focus on relaxing all the muscles in your face
  2. Release any tension in your upper body by dropping your shoulders and allowing your hands to fall by your sides
  3. Take a big inhale then exhale deeply to relax your chest 
  4. Shift your focus to your lower body to relax your thighs, calves, and feet 
  5. Picture a relaxing scene in your mind’s eye and hold onto that image for ten seconds 
  6. Repeat the phrase “don’t think” to yourself for ten seconds 

Within ten seconds of completing this process, you should be asleep!

If not, you may need to work on the foundational elements of the routine. After all, it took the pilots six weeks to get it down pat. 

The foundational elements of the military method are breathing and muscle relaxation. 

Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique to fall asleep faster

Put the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth behind your two front teeth. Keep your tongue in this position for the duration of the exercise. You may purse your lips if necessary. 

Slightly part your lips and exhale through your mouth. Make a soft whooshing sound as you do so. 

Next, close your lips and silently inhale through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath at the top for a count of seven. Then, exhale making a whooshing sound for a count of eight. As you do so, imagine the tension leaving your body. 

Try to perform this exercise as mindlessly as possible to help yourself relax. And aim to complete four full cycles of breath. 

Perform progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) to unwind

During PMR, you want to tense your muscles without straining. The goal of PMR is to help you relax and release tension in your body. Practice the 4-7-8 breathing technique before PMR to prep your mind and body for the process. 

When you’re ready, start by raising your eyebrows as high as they’ll go. Hold this position for a count of five. Then, relax your forehead, feel the tension drop, and wait ten seconds. 

Next, smile big and feel the tension in your cheeks. Hold for a count of five then relax and wait ten seconds. 

Close your eyes and squint. Hold for a count of five, release, and wait ten seconds. Are you starting to see the pattern? 

Next, tilt your head back so you’re looking at the ceiling. (Don’t tilt your neck so far that it feels uncomfortable, though.) Hold this position for a count of five then allow your neck to sink into your pillow and relax. Wait ten seconds. 

After working your way through your head and neck muscles, move to your upper body. 

Relax your shoulders, chest, triceps, biceps, forearms, and hands. 

Then, move on to your lower body, focusing on your glutes, thighs, calves, and feet and how heavy they feel when they’re relaxed and comfortable. 

After completing this exercise, your entire body should feel relaxed and ready for sleep. If at any point you start to drift off, don’t force yourself to make it through your whole body. Allow yourself to drift off whenever you start to feel sleepy. 

If you’re still not sleepy, try these techniques 

Paradoxical intention 

If you can’t fall asleep, try telling yourself to stay awake. This reverse psychology move can be an effective means of falling asleep faster.  

Especially for people with insomnia, when they try to force themselves to fall asleep, they often experience performance anxiety. 

But when they try this paradoxical, cognitive technique, the anxiety tends to diminish. Thus they’re able to fall asleep faster. 


Acupressure has yet to be scientifically proven to work. But the research that’s been done so far is promising. 

You can target areas of your body that are especially prone to pressure, including the top of the bridge of your nose and your temples. Or you can concentrate on three specific areas thought to help with insomnia. 

These areas are…

  1. Your spirit gate 
  2. Inner frontier gate
  3. And wind pool 

Spirit gate

You can find your spirit gate on the pinky side of your hand in the small, hollow area beneath your palm. 

For 2-3 minutes, apply gentle pressure to this area in either an up-and-down or circular motion. 

Next, with your palm facing you, lightly press down on the area for a few seconds. Then, turn your hand over so the back of your hand is facing you and do the same thing. 

Repeat this process on your other wrist. 

Inner frontier gate

Hold up one of your palms. From the crease in your wrist, count three finger-widths down. 

Use your thumb to apply pressure to the two tendons in the center in a steady downward motion. Then, massage this area for 2-3 minutes using either an up-and-down or circular motion. 

Repeat this process on your other wrist. 

Wind pool 

Press your palms together and interlock your fingers. Then, open your palms while keeping your fingers interlocked and create a cup shape. 

Place your thumbs at the base of your skull where your head connects to your neck. 

Using either an up-and-down or circular motion apply firm pressure to the area until it feels more relaxed. 

If you can’t fall asleep quickly after trying the military method, spend a few nights up to several weeks practicing these other techniques first. They can serve as your military method boot camp. 

Then, once you get proficient at deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, you should be able to successfully fall asleep in a matter of minutes. 

Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website:

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