With 40 percent of Americans failing to get the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep a night and at least 50 million of us suffering from chronic sleep deprivation according to the National Institutes of Health, it's clear we all need to get more sleep.

But with schools continuing to open at ridiculously early times and bosses still mostly unwilling to embrace the science calling for shorter workdays, it's hard to see how most of us are realistically going to either sleep in later or get to bed earlier (especially if, you know, you want to squeeze in fluffy extras like seeing your loved ones, feeding yourself, and enjoying life in the evenings).

The only solution, then, is to get more sleep during the day, whenever and wherever you can. It would be nice if more offices were kitted out with comfy nap pods, but until that happy day comes, most of us are going to have to make do with catching a few z's on planes, trains, or even with your head on your desk between meetings.

The U.S. Army can help with that.

The secret to falling asleep anywhere

Throughout history, soldiers have faced serious sleep deprivation and have had to make do with squeezing rest in between firefights and in trenches, tents, and moving troop carriers. By necessity, they have to learn to sleep whenever and wherever they get the chance. Exhaustion certainly helps the eyes close, but it turns out the U.S. Army actively teaches this skill too.  

"A secret military technique that is said to help anyone fall asleep in just two minutes has recently been revealed," reports the U.K. Independent, which notes this trick to sleeping anywhere was originally detailed in a 1981 book, Relax and Win: Championship Performance, but only recently started circulating again online.

It "is reportedly used by the U.S. Army to help [soldiers] fall asleep when in situations that are less than peaceful, such as on battlefields," claims the article, which goes on to detail the technique's four simple steps:

  1. Relax the muscles in your face, including tongue, jaw, and the muscles around the eyes.

  2. Drop your shoulders as far down as they'll go, followed by your upper and lower arm, one side at a time.

  3. Breathe out, relaxing your chest, followed by your legs, starting from the thighs and working down

  4. You should then spend 10 seconds trying to clear your mind before thinking about one of the three following images: You're lying in a canoe on a calm lake with nothing but a clear blue sky above you; you're lying in a black velvet hammock in a pitch-black room; or you say "don't think, don't think, don't think" to yourself over and over for about 10 seconds.

That's it. It sounds too simple to be effective, but this trick is said to work for 96 percent of people after six weeks of practice. With weeks of practice, apparently, being the key. Michael Grothaus, of Inc.com's sister publication Fast Company, tried the practice out.

"I tried this technique every night in the first week and nothing happened. But then something changed starting at around the ninth night," he reports. In fact, the trick worked so well at that stage he fell asleep while still sitting on the side of his bed. "I can confidently say this decades-old technique worked for me," he concludes.  

If a simple trick like this might be enough to help me finally sleep on long-haul flights, I might just give it a try. How about you?