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How to Bank Sleep and Stay Alert for All-night Duty

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There are situations in life where it’s smart to catch some shuteye whenever you can. This is especially true when you’re not getting as much sleep as you need. Often dull travel time presents a key opportunity to recoup some sleep. But the problem is, the noisy environment on a plane, helicopter, cargo ship, or land-based vehicle may not be conducive to falling or staying asleep, whether you’re a soldier or an everyday traveler. Armed with the following tips, you’ll be able to train yourself to grab a power nap or a long snooze in a loud setting.

  1. Block the sounds around you. Carry disposable, foam earplugs: Pop them in, and you’ll at least muffle the noise around you so you can fall asleep1. Or, download a white noise app on your smartphone. When you want to snooze, put on your ear buds, turn on the app, and let the steady frequency of the white noise drown out the surrounding sounds.2 Alternatively, playing relaxing, classical music at a low volume can help.
  1. Forget about the noise. Focusing on the noise is one of the biggest obstacles to falling asleep in a loud place. So don’t do it!3 Instead, acknowledge that there’s noise around you, and then choose to ignore it. This is in keeping with the principles of mindfulness—maintaining an awareness of your thoughts, bodily sensations, and surroundings with acceptance, but without engagement or judgment.4
  1. Relax your mind and body. Try to empty your mind of thoughts and focus on the rhythm of your breathing5. One technique that can help de-stress you fast and set the stage for sleep is known as the “4-7-8” breathing exercise.67 First, exhale fully through your mouth, making a whooshing sound, and then close your eyes and inhale quietly through your nose for a count of four. Finally, hold your breath for a count of seven, and then exhale completely through your mouth, making that whooshing sound again, for a count of eight. Repeat the sequence three more times.
  1. Put your senses on your side. Trying doing progressive muscle relaxation exercises—in which you systematically tense and then relax the muscles in your body from head to toe (or vice versa)—to downshift your body and mind into a soporific state.89 Or, use visualization techniques, where you recruit all your senses to imagine a tranquil scene, such as a pristine beach or mountainside lake10.