Counting sheep. Does it really work?
If you have trouble falling asleep in the evening, maybe someone has suggested that you should count sheep. It’s a commonly advised cure for insomnia, and many of us have at least one person in our lives who claims that this method really works.
Counting sheep is a mental exercise that involves closing your eyes and imagining sheep jumping over a fence: one, two, three, four, etc. In this way, you count jumping, fantasy sheep until you fall asleep. The idea is that it should have a calming effect on a person, who instead of focusing on his or her problems and other issues, slowly but surely is rocked into a soothing trance that leads to a good night's sleep. You can also say that the method is designed to bore people to sleep.
Now the big question is whether it really works. It may have worked in the past when there was less stress and stimulation in everyday life. However, now that everything is running at such a fast pace one can perhaps wonder if this old advice is really effective enough to calm our anxieties before sleep. Researchers at Oxford University once did a study to investigate the matter more closely and derived a scientific answer. They looked at different techniques for dealing with insomnia in their experiments, which involved 50 sleepless people divided into three random groups.
The three different techniques involved counting sheep that jump over a fence; imagining a peaceful scenario such as a waterfall; or just following their usual routine. The group that did not use any hacks served as the control group of the study. The results showed that those who imagined a peaceful scenario fell asleep 25 minutes faster than usual, while those who counted sheep had an even harder time falling asleep. Although it was a very small study, it seems that this old adage does not work with striking efficiency.
We do not know exactly when we started counting sheep to cure our sleepless nights, but in a Spanish text from the 12th century called Disciplina Clericalis, you can read a story about a person who counts sheep. Some experts believe that the idea extends even further back in time, and that ancient shepherds originated the method. If you have trouble falling asleep in the evening, you can always try to see if it works for you.