Counting Sheep: Can it Actually Help You Sleep?

Though it’s often considered the most inactive part of your day, sleep is arguably the single most important activity for our bodies. It is during this nightly slumber that our brain cells recharge and repair themselves. With the recommended amount of sleep being 8 hours for those aged 19-55, 35% of Americans still describe their sleep quality as “poor.”

We’ve all heard the expression, “counting sheep,” but some of you may be wondering, “Do people actually do this?” and, if so, “Does it actually work?”

Do People Actually Count Sheep?

The practice of tallying these furry creatures has been wildly overused in pop culture, cartoons, and even historically dating back to the 1800s. Some say this philosophy was born when an actual sheep herder had trouble sleeping at night because he was so worried about his herd outside. Wherever it was incepted, this approach to falling asleep relies on both steady rhythm and repetition to effectively bore you to bed.

As it turns out, this may be more of an old wives’ tale than anything else. A 2001 study conducted by Oxford University tested the sheep theory. They had a small group of participants split into three groups. The first group was tasked with imagining peaceful, naturalistic scenes in their heads until they fell asleep. The second group was told to simply practice whatever their usual routine was. The third group was instructed to count sheep. Results showed that those who visualized scenes of calmness and serenity fell asleep almost 20 minutes quicker than usual, while those who were tasked with counting sheep reported taking a longer time to fall asleep than they were used to. Researchers theorized that imagining the peaceful scenes was more relaxing while remaining engaging, helping them fall asleep faster. Counting sheep was thought to simply be too boring.

Improving Your Sleep

For many people, lying in bed is a time where your mind begins to race, mulling over the past or analytically planning the future. Instead of exercising your arithmetic on livestock, try visualizing your dream vacation or a pleasant getaway. Rather than activating the distracting information processing portion of your brain, this will keep your mind composed enough to relax while engaged enough to help make you tired. Additionally, try to implement these helpful pointers to ease your sleep routine:

  • Avoid eating a heavy meal just before bedtime. Your body needs to digest, and trying to sleep immediately after can make this difficult. This goes for sugary foods as well. Try to eat 2-3 hours before you plan on sleeping.
  • Try not to exercise right before sleeping. Working out kick starts chemical reactions in your body that can hinder your ability to fall asleep afterwards.
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule. When you are used to falling asleep around a certain time, typically it’s easier to do so.
  • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature. Comfort is key!

Main Image:

© CEphoto, Uwe Aranas / , via Wikimedia Commons

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