The importance of a good night’s sleep can’t be overstated, regardless of who you are. Members of the United States military can certainly relate to that. It may be that they need the required amount of rest more than most. However, back in 1981 a special technique was published in a book, detailing how you could fall asleep within minutes.
On the surface, a lack of sleep can bring about several noticeable issues in a person. Indeed, signs such as weariness, drowsiness and a fractious mood could suggest that someone isn’t getting the required seven-to-nine hours’ rest. Beyond that, though, sleep deprivation can also cause a host of serious health problems.
While we sleep, our bodies are given the chance to recharge themselves, but a lack of rest can really throw that process off-kilter. Areas of the body such as the central nervous system can be severely affected by it, causing issues that would make normal activities a lot harder for us.
On that note, the Healthline website provided an in-depth look at those particular problems, detailing the impact of a lack of rest. “During sleep, pathways form between nerve cells (neurons) in your brain that help you remember new information you’ve learned,” reads the site. “Sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted, so it can’t perform its duties as well.”
“You may also find it more difficult to concentrate or learn new things,” the website continued. “The signals your body sends may also come at a delay, decreasing your coordination skills and increasing your risks for accidents.” The problems don’t end there, though, as other bodily functions can suffer from the effects of sleep deprivation.
Indeed, areas such as the respiratory system and the immune system are among those that can also be affected. With that in mind, a person has a higher chance of developing some serious illnesses as a result of sleep deprivation. For instance, if the problem goes on for long enough, you could be at higher risk of heart disease.
The digestive system is another area that can suffer, resulting in even more issues. “Sleep affects the levels of two hormones, leptin and ghrelin, which control feelings of hunger and fullness,” reads Healthline. “Leptin tells your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. Without enough sleep, your brain reduces leptin and raises ghrelin, which is an appetite stimulant.”
However, that isn’t the only problem. “Sleep deprivation also prompts your body to release higher levels of insulin after you eat,” reads the health website. “Insulin controls your blood sugar level. Higher insulin levels promote fat storage and increase your risk for type two diabetes.”
Despite all the risks that are associated with sleep deprivation, the problem itself isn’t particularly rare. Providing a rather alarming figure, the American Sleep Association (ASA) revealed that between 50 million and 70 million adults suffer from a disorder of rest. But it had even more concerning numbers to share, however.
Indeed, the ASA also reported that more than 35 percent of adults were getting less than seven hours of rest each day. As a result of that, employers have suffered too, with one Harvard study in 2015 revealing an interesting stat. It was discovered that over the course of a year, an average person dealing with problems related to sleep would lose as much as 11 days’ worth of productivity.
Some two years after that, an additional study revealed that companies across America were losing more than $400 billion each year because of sleep-caused loss of productivity. On that note, the website Joe.co.uk unearthed an old book that could help tackle the problem of sleep deprivation. Titled Relax and Win: Championship Performance, the publication was written by Lloyd Bud Winter in 1981.
Born in June 1909, Winter grew up to become one of the greatest coaches of all time in his chosen area of track and field. However, it took some time before he found his calling, starting his sports career in 1941. The coach earned a job at San Jose State College at that point, but few could’ve predicted what he would achieve there.
Indeed, of all the athletes that worked under Winter, more than two dozen were able to compete at the Olympics, including the likes of Tommie Smith and Lee Evans. The coach also oversaw a several personal triumphs at the college, with San Jose State picking up titles throughout the 1960s.
Before that success, Sports Illustrated magazine interviewed Winter in June 1959. And during that chat, he revealed some interesting information about himself. “I taught relaxation during the war to pilots,” he recalled. “We were losing pilots in training because they were too tense. Pilots who had been fine in training tensed up going into combat and were lost.”
“Pilots on Guadalcanal couldn’t sleep at night because the Japanese were sending over nuisance bombers to disturb their rest,” Winter continued telling Sports Illustrated. “We had to figure out some way to relax them.” With that in mind, the track and field coach then devised an intriguing plan for achieving better relaxation.
“We worked out a program that taught pilots how to relax themselves,” Winter said. “We ran a test on two platoons, 60 men in each platoon. The 60 who learned how to relax did better in everything which requires physical coordination.” The college coach eventually left his post in 1970, before earning a place in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1985.
Some 24 hours ahead of Winter’s induction, though, he suffered a heart attack. The retired coach sadly passed away as a result, but in the years since, his accomplishments have continued to be recognized. Back in 2010, he was welcomed into another special club, earning a spot in the African-American Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame.
However, outside of Winter’s work in track and field, his books have also left their mark in the past few decades. He wrote a publication titled So You Want to be a Sprinter back in 1956, before producing a revised version in 1973. The books were hugely influential for athletes and their trainers at that time.
After that came 1981’s Relax and Win: Championship Performance. In that book, Winter referred back to his time with the United States military during the Second World War. The San Jose State coach also went into more detail about the techniques he put in place for the troops in that period.
Winter developed a four-step plan that helped soldiers fall asleep within a couple of minutes, regardless of their surroundings. In turn, they would be less likely to make any errors associated with a lack of sleep. While it’s believed that the United States military still uses the technique, the simplicity of it means anyone can try it.
The first step advises you to relax all of your facial muscles, as well as your jaw and tongue. At that point, Winter then suggests that you lower your shoulders, before doing the same with both of your arms. After that, the coach tells you to focus on your breathing, leading to the next part of the technique.
When you exhale, Winter advises you to relax the muscles in your chest and legs. The last point then asks you to calm your mind for around ten seconds, before mentally visualizing one of three scenarios. “You’re lying in a canoe on a calm lake with nothing but a clear blue sky above you,” recited U.K. website the Independent.
“You’re lying in a black velvet hammock in a pitch-black room,” the newspaper continued. “You say ‘don’t think, don’t think, don’t think’ to yourself over and over for about 10 seconds.” According to Winter’s book, this simple technique can be mastered within six weeks, boasting an impressive success rate.
With that in mind, journalist Michael Grothaus decided to put Winter’s technique to the test in October 2018. For around four weeks, he followed the steps detailed in Relax and Win: Championship Performance. After that, Grothaus reported his findings in the business magazine Fast Company.
“When I began the technique I was heartened that the army found that it worked for 96 percent of people who tried it,” Grothaus wrote in the publication. “But that was for people who tried it for six weeks. That’s why I wasn’t too bummed when I tried this technique every night in the first week and nothing happened.”
Before long, though, Grothaus started to notice some results. “Something changed, starting at around the ninth night,” the journalist wrote. “And honestly, I can’t be sure if it was due to the technique itself or the sheer boredom caused by trying to calm my body into a lump-like state.”
Grothaus described the progress he experienced. “I relaxed my muscles and visualized swinging in a velvety hammock,” he continued. “And the next thing I knew, it was around 3 a.m., and I woke up, awkwardly splayed over my bed, with my feet still touching the floor and the bedside light still on.”
“I was deeply tired and only woke enough to swing my legs into bed and turn off the lamp,” Grothaus added. Encouraged by what happened, the writer looked to replicate those results the next evening, as he went through the technique once again. However, there was a slight difference on that occasion.
“This time I didn’t pass out right away, but felt a great release come over my body after my hammock visualization,” Grothaus wrote in Fast Company. “I crawled into bed and turned out the light.” Amazingly, the technique did seem to work. “[The] next thing I remember is waking eight hours later, feeling rested.”
From there, Grothaus summarized his experience with Winter’s method over those four weeks, making some interesting observations. “I can confidently say this decades-old technique worked for me,” the journalist continued. “Mind you, it didn’t work every night. Some nights during that second week I didn’t get that ‘release’ after my visualization.”
“But as the weeks went on, the trick seemed to work more often than not,” Grothaus added. And he had something more to say about the visualizations. He continued, “And it seemed to work more effectively when I visualized myself in a velvety hammock instead of in a canoe, so it helps to switch up visualizations to see what works best.”
Outside of Winter’s technique, there are other methods that you could take on if you’re struggling to get some shut-eye. Indeed, Dr. Neil Stanley, a specialist in the subject of sleep, suggested that the key to a good night’s rest was to clear your mind of any thoughts that clutter it up.
“In order to get to sleep you need three things,” Dr. Stanley told the Independent in September 2018. “A bedroom conducive to sleep, a relaxed body and most importantly a quiet mind. You can’t go to sleep if your mind is racing and so anything you can do to slow it down will help you sleep.”
Dr. Stanley also had some calming words for those who have found themselves unable to find a technique that ultimately does the job. In his mind, several alternatives exist for getting to sleep. “There is no magic way of doing this, you have to find what works for you,” the sleep expert continued.
“Be that reading, a warm bath, camomile tea, mindfulness, aromatherapy or listening to Pink Floyd,” Dr. Stanley added. “It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it stops you worrying about the stresses of the day.” The subject provoked plenty of discussion online, as people offered their opinion on Winter’s military technique.
The Independent’s comments section certainly sparked some interesting debate, with users reacting to the newspaper’s article about Winter’s book. One person in particular was far from convinced by the technique, prompting them to offer their own suggestions. “That advice sounds like a dose of the obvious, wrapped up with bullet points,” they wrote.
“Relax and clear [your] mind are a bit obvious, what was skirted around is breathing,” the online user continued. And they then added their own prescription for sleep, saying, “When you want to sleep, take deep, slightly faster breaths of air, and keep to a rhythm. When we sleep we do this, so you are getting into that rhythm.”
“Oh and routine, try to keep your bedtime fairly consistent, and do some things before you go to sleep,” the user added. “Get a little ritual going. Train yourself to associate certain activities with oncoming sleep.” As the online debate continued, Grothaus dipped in with some advice of his own.
Indeed, after experiencing the effects of Winter’s military technique first hand, Grothaus believed that it was well worth a try. The journalist also suggested that this method would be far more beneficial than turning towards certain medications. “By the fourth week, it was working more often than not,” he wrote in Fast Company.
“One thing I know for sure is that trying this is better [than] taking an Ambien,” Grothaus said. “And [it] doesn’t take much more time than swallowing a pill.” And he went on to add, “So go ahead and give it a try. Then sleep on it. You might be surprised by the results.”