If you’ve ever had trouble falling asleep at night, chances are that someone has told you to try counting sheep. The theory goes that visualizing sheep jumping over a fence one by one can help you get to sleep faster (maybe because it’s so monotonous that you bore yourself to sleep).
Historians aren’t exactly sure where this timeless advice came from. One theory, courtesy of MentalFloss, is that the practice originated with shepherds in Medieval Britain when shepherds needed to count the sheep in their herds each night before going to sleep. However, the author also notes that “a chapter in Disciplina Clericalis, a 12th-century book of fables, suggests that counting sheep had already been a cultural trope in Islamic culture for centuries.”
One thing’s for certain: The idea of counting sheep before bed has been around for a long time. But that doesn’t mean it’s a tried and true method for dozing off faster. In fact, research suggests that counting sheep isn’t actually an effective way to make yourself fall asleep.
[Editor’s Note: The content provided on this site is for general informational purposes only. Any information provided is not a substitute for professional medical advice. We encourage you to consult with the appropriate health expert if you have concerns.]Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock
The Science Of Sheep Counting
For one study, researchers split insomniacs into three groups. One group was asked to count sheep when they were trying to go to bed; another was instructed to visualize soothing scenes such as waterfalls or beaches; and the third group was told to think about whatever they wanted.
Apparently, the insomniacs in the “soothing scenes” group fell asleep much faster than those in the other two groups. “Counting sheep is just too mundane to effectively keep worries away,” researcher Allison Harvey told Modern Farmer.
If you are struggling to fall asleep, there are a few things that might work better than counting sheep. Practice good sleep hygiene by:
- Sticking to a regular bedtime and wake-up time
- Avoiding electronics usage before bed
- Keeping your room cool, dark, and quiet
And if your sleep issues get really severe, talk to your doctor about possible causes and science-backed solutions.
[Editor’s Note: The content provided on this site is for general informational purposes only. Any information provided is not a substitute for professional medical advice. We encourage you to consult with the appropriate health expert if you have concerns.]
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