During WWII, the military realized there was a problem with pilots. Because of the large pressures of aerial combat, pilots were reaching levels of stress so high that they were breaking under it.
To help these pilots the military brought in Naval Ensign Bud Winter to research and teach relaxation.
The goal was to teach pilots a method of relaxation that would speed their reaction time and sharpen their focus. But the course also wanted to teach them “how to get to sleep in under two minutes regardless of time of day or conditions.”
To accomplish this sleep goal, he taught them how to physically relax and mentally relax.
1 — Physical Relaxation
Winter gave his students these instructions: “Sit in your chair and place your feet flat. With your knees apart, your hands relaxed on your lap. Now, shut your eyes and lower your chin until it’s on your chest.
Breathe deeply, slowly and regularly. Take the wrinkles out of your forehead. Relax the top of your head. Now allow your jaw to sag. Now relax all the rest of your muscles. Relax your tongue and your lips. Breathe slowly.
Now, let’s relax your eyes. Let your eyes go. Don’t focus, just allow them to go limp. Breathe slowly.
Now let your shoulders go as low as they want. Do you feel the muscles behind your neck going limp? When you believe you are relaxed, let go again.
Relax your chest. Take one deep breath. Hold it. Exhale while letting all your tensions go. Let your chest go. Let it sag. Imagine you are a big blob in the chair. Breathe slowly and exhale, releasing your tensions.
Now your arms. Relax your right bicep, make it go limp. Now do the same to your right arm. And the same to your right hand. Your arm should be a dead weight resting on your leg. Repeat the process with your left arm while breathing slowly.
Next, allow a sense of well-being to invade your body.
Now let your right thigh muscles reach a dead limpness on your chair. Then the same for your right calf. Next your right foot and ankle. Tell yourself that your right leg is just a dead weight and nothing more. Repeat this on your left thigh, calf, foot and ankle.
Finally, take three deep breaths and blow out all your remaining tensions.
From this condition, Winter then told cadets how to “get into a deep sleep” by getting mentally relaxed.
“First, imagine it’s a warm day and you are lying in a canoe on a calm lake. You are seeing the blue sky with slow moving clouds. Do not let any other thought get in. Just focus on this image and keep other thoughts out, especially thoughts about motion. Hold this image for ten seconds.
Now image you are in a big hammock and everywhere you look is there is blackness. Hold this image for ten seconds.
That’s it, you are done!
The cadets who took the relaxation course outperformed all the rest in every mentally-taxing class and test.
And after almost two months of practice, 96% of these cadets could fall asleep within 2 minutes or less. Even after having drunk coffee or with gunfire in the background!