Counting Sheep to Sleep: Mere Myth or Gift for Insomniacs?

September 26, 2014

Counting Sheep

You’ve seen it in a lot of classical cartoons, books, movies, and even comedy sketches like Mr. Bean. It’s also been so close with society that it actually even became a term alluding to the beginning of slumber. I’m talking about “counting sheep.”

Believe it or not, this cliché is accepted by some as truth. Yep, there are people who are saying that counting sheep will help actually you fall asleep. Surely, there are already proven practices that will lead to a better slumber like listening to classical music or investing on a Senso memory mattress. However, there are those who have already exhausted all options and still find themselves tossing and turning deep into the night.

Can the seemingly silly trick of counting sheep be the solution for the most desperate of insomniacs? Read on to find out!

Sheep

THE ORIGIN

According to tradition, shepherds will not allow themselves to sleep unless they first count their herd and make sure that not one is missing and all are safe. Only then will they sleep peacefully knowing that those lovely pieces of mutton wrapped in wool are safe and sound.

The practice of counting sheep isn’t what’s causing your sleepless nights, although it is stated that it may help you escape it. Insomnia is a physiological thing after all, so if there’s any validity to its effectiveness, then it would be attributed to its effect on our subconscious.

THE LOGIC

If you think about it from a scientific standpoint, drinking a glass of warm milk will definitely fare better than counting sheep. I’m talking about the scientific aspect to this. Milk has serotonin – a chemical which your brain needs to facilitate sleep. Insomniacs have a deficiency of serotonin, and it works well for them most of the time.

The logic of counting sheep, on the other hand, is that keeping your mind occupied with something dull and repetitive will eventually tire you out, which will then cause your brain to voluntarily shut down for the night. This probably explains why so many students fall asleep halfway through 3-hour lectures.

THE VERDICT

There have been researches conducted with this idea, and the participants had varying results. However, a 2001 study from the Behavior Research and Therapy concluded that insomniacs that used “imagery distraction” fell asleep faster than doing nothing at all.

Basically, imagery distraction is when you picture a relaxing image in your head like a sunset by the beach, an aurora borealis in the Nordic fjords, or a waterfall in a rainforest. Heck, it can even be the image of Ryan Gosling playing ukulele on a unicorn – as long it relaxes you. You get the point. This type of imagery is the better strategy to calm a mind that’s racing, stressed, and distracted.

The verdict? Counting sheep isn’t a myth, but it‘s also not the God-given miraculous cure for insomniacs everywhere. There are just other methods out there that will help you. Sweet Dreams!