Just where did the idea of "counting sheep" to get to sleep come from? Some say it goes back to the days of ancient Britain when shepherds used a certain tallying system--one that must have been so monotonous that it quickly found its way into the sleep vernacular. But does it really work?
Nope. At least that's what a group of researchers at Oxford University are saying. In their study:
- People took slightly longer to fall asleep on nights they were instructed to distract themselves by counting sheep or were given no instructions at all.
- When told to imagine a relaxing scene, such as a soothing shoreline, they fell asleep an average of 20 minutes sooner than they did on other nights.
Conclusion: Counting sheep may be too boring to do for very long, while images of a tranquil stream are engrossing enough to concentrate on. I'm really not all that surprised. I don't remember the last time I told someone to try counting sheep.
I've never been a big advocate of the counting-sheep ploy. The anecdotal evidence alone that I've collected through the years has been enough to tell me it isn't the magic trick. But I do know that guided imagery and mind games can be very effective. Try any of these the next time you find yourself resorting to green pastures for help:
- Count backwards from 1,000 in groups of seven (i.e., count every seventh number from 1,000). This isn't easy. Or try 300 by 3's.
- Imagine being an astronaut on a space walk. You're floating around the world, watching the earth rotate as you weightlessly move around it. Or, imagine floating on a cloud or out at sea on a wave.
- Imagine that your thoughts are bubbles and let them float up through your mind to the surface of you head and then...poof! they disappear out of your head.
- Picture your favorite, most relaxing place to be. The place may be on a sunny beach with the warm ocean breezes caressing you, swinging in a hammock in the mountains or on a desert island. Visualize yourself in that peaceful setting. See and feel your surroundings, hear the peaceful sounds, smell the flowers or the salty air.
- Work your way through the alphabet from A to Z and come up with four- or five-letter words to each letter.
- Spell long words.
- Invent your own.
Follow Dr. Michael J. Breus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thesleepdoctor