If you have trouble falling asleep, you're in good company. According to the Cleveland Clinic, one in three adults worldwide suffers from insomnia. But, unfortunately, knowing that so many people have the same issue may not help you sleep much better at night. That’s likely why a technique that promises to help you fall asleep in two minutes flat has gone viral.
Lack of sleep can impact both your short- and long-term health — not to mention your wallet. Studies show that Americans spend almost $95 billion a year dealing with sleep disorders. With the glut of #sleephacks trending on social media, it's hard to know what's good for your health and what's just hype. We talked to a sleep expert and a fitness coach about whether the two-minute method for falling asleep in two minutes — and they both say it could be effective.
The two-minute technique was originally described in the book “Relax and Win: Championship Performance” by Lloyd Bud Winter, first published in 1981. It recently came back into the limelight thanks to a 2018 viral TikTok video from Justin Agustin, a fitness coach with over 1.9 million TikTok followers.
What is the military sleep method?
Agustin said in his TikTok that the trick was developed in the military, as a way for soldiers to fall asleep anywhere, anytime. The tactic allows you “to calm your body and systematically relax and shut down each part of your body from head to toe, literally,” he said, by following these steps:
- Relax: Augustin demonstrates relaxing every muscle in the body, starting with the forehead and working your way down to your toes. “Start by relaxing the muscles in your forehead. Relax your eyes, your cheeks, your jaws and focus on your breathing. Now, go down to your neck and your shoulders,” he added. “Make sure your shoulders are not tensed up. Drop them as low as you can and keep your arms loose to your sides, including your hands and fingers.” Then, he instructs us to imagine a warm sensation going from the top of your head to your fingertips. Begin taking deep breaths, relaxing the muscles from your chest down to your feet, and then reimagine that warm sensation, but this time going from your heart all the way down to your toes.
- Breathe: Make sure your shoulders and hands stay relaxed and take deep breaths, exhaling slowly.
- Clear your mind: “Now while you’re doing this, it’s really important to clear your mind of any stresses,” added Agustin, encouraging you to think of two scenarios: lying in a canoe surrounded by only clear lake water or lying in a black velvet hammock in a pitch black room. “At any time when you start thinking of anything else or you start getting distracted, repeat these words for 10 seconds: ‘Don’t think. Don’t think. Don’t think,’” he said.
According to Agustino, if you practice this every night for six weeks, you should be able to fall asleep within two minutes of closing your eyes.
You can train yourself to fall asleep
This technique may sound too good to be true. But according to Dr. Sanjiv Kothare, sleep specialist and head of pediatric neurology at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York, it is possible to train yourself to fall asleep faster using this technique.
Training your brain to fall asleep faster is “cognitive behavioral therapy and what’s being shown in that video is exactly what I do with my patients,” Kothare told TODAY.
Kothare said there are two important principles to keep in mind when training your brain to fall asleep.
- Don’t try to fall asleep when you’re not tired. Make you are “physically tired or feeling sleepy,” he said. “Of course, this doesn’t apply to armed forces trying to sleep at times under stress.”
- Practice sleep restriction. “In a conventional patient with insomnia, we say don’t go into bed early and go to bed only for falling asleep,” said Kothare. “Don’t do other activities like reading a book or watching TV, those things are sleep associations and not good. The bed should be associated only with sleep.”
“Once you’re ready to fall asleep, dim the lights so that melatonin starts surging, close your eyes, breathe with your mouth, focus on your abdomen and do exactly what is shown in that video, which is relax your entire body, get some pleasant thoughts in your mind, imagine darkness,” said Kothare. He also agrees that for the racing mind, repeating ‘don’t think, don’t think’ is a way to replace or quiet competing thoughts.
“Eventually you learn to welcome that and hopefully fall asleep,” said Kothare. “It’s a programmed way of thinking. You need to program your brain to relax and over a period of time, it will learn to relax.”
And you may start to see the effects even sooner than six weeks. “Six weeks may be generous … I think within two weeks you’ll start seeing the effect,” said Kothare. “But the most important thing is motivation; you want to be motivated to fall asleep. If you do it without motivation, it’s not going to work.”
Other tips to help you fall asleep
The best technique to fall asleep is to “go to bed only when tired and do it at a consistent basis every night ... and no nap during the daytime,” said Kothare. Some other factors that he suggested people consider to help them doze off more easily:
- Check your sleep environment. “Try to maintain a dark environment,” said Kothare. “Not too hot; it should be cool and noise-free as much as possible.”
- Rule out medical conditions. “Medical conditions need to be ruled out before you treat the primary insomnia,” said Kothare. “Medical disorders like anxiety or depression need to be addressed; if you snore you need to consider obstructed sleep apnea; if you have restless leg syndrome sensations in your legs may make it difficult to fall asleep.”
- Consider melatonin. He also recommends one milligram of melatonin — “the hormone of the dark” — along with this cognitive therapy, within one hour of sleep. “A milligram of melatonin will probably help with the cognitive behavioral therapy initially. Later on, you can stop once your brain is programmed,” said Kothare. “People think they need 10, 20 milligrams, you don’t need it. One milligram of melatonin one hour before sleep onset is as good as 10 milligrams. And then do exactly what is shown in that TikTok video and you’re good to go.”
What to do if you can't sleep
Having tools to encourage sleep is great, but Kothare encouraged people to not let your sleep strategies create too much pressure or anxiety around the ritual of sleeping, which he says is a very common issue that people run into.
“Let’s say that you need to wake up at 5 a.m. and do something really important like, for example, catch a flight and then give a big talk. You will think, ‘OK I need seven hours of sleep, which means I should be asleep by at least 10 o’clock, so let me wind down by 9 o’clock and try to fall asleep.’ Well, if you don’t fall asleep in an hour you look at the clock and think, ‘one hour is gone, I will now only get six hours.’ You again try to fall asleep, one more hour is gone and so your anxiety (increases). Or you do sleep, and you wake up at 3 a.m. and think, ‘I only have two more hours of sleep.’
We’ve all experienced this anxious spiral at some point. To avoid it, Kothare recommends creating a clock-free zone in your bedroom. “Put an alarm on your phone and turn it around so that you don’t assess time,” he said.
Kothare also encourages people to not lie in bed for hours trying to force sleep. “Let’s say you go to bed at 10 o’clock and you do all this cognitive therapy and you don’t manage to fall sleep in 20 minutes,” he said. When it's clear that your in-bed sleep strategies aren't actually helping you fall asleep, it's time to try other tactics.
What should you do? “Get out of bed, go to a different area, read a book in dim light — do something boring, come back to bed. In 20 minutes, do it again and keep doing it back and forth until you fall asleep," Kothare said.
But, even if you're struggling to find something boring to do, stay away from the electronics. "Don’t do anything stimulating, don’t go in front of the TV, because the bright light tells your brain to stay awake and suppresses melatonin,” Kothare added.
Shifting your perspective on sleep — or lack thereof — can also help. “Train your brain and say, 'even if I don’t fall asleep, I’ll be OK the next day. I won’t die,'" said Kothare. "Slowly your brain will relax and you will be able to fall asleep.”