Counting sheep as you try to fall asleep is a common trope when we imagine going to sleep. It is something we have seen frequently in books, television, and films – especially cartoons. The idea, however, must have come from somewhere. While we may dismiss it as a cartoony notion of sleeping, it could be a potentially peaceful way to drift off to sleep.
Imagining cute little sheep, jumping over a fence, is a calming image for the mind. In fact, it can be a form of mindfulness that brings sleep. Concentrating on mental images, with some steady breathing and concentrating on patterns, is a form of bedtime-friendly meditation. Clearing your mind and keeping only relaxing thoughts is the best headspace to be in to fall asleep.
For those who struggle with anxiety or stress that keeps them up at night, counting sheep could be the solution to their sleep problems. If it is not just a cartoony trope, the secret to a good night’s sleep may have been under our nose this whole time.
So, Does Counting Sheep Work?
The short answer is “it depends”. No sleep solution is universal. For some, the mental image of counting sheep jumping over a fence is just too boring to think about for long. In this way, it is not a great distraction. Trying to keep your mind from wandering on such a simple image is difficult for many. If you struggle with anxious thoughts that keep you awake every night, this mental image may prove too weak to stop the bad thoughts from coming in.
However, there’s a reason why this method became so popular. It depends largely on how your mind works, especially your imagination. For some, imagining those sheep is enough to occupy your head. Perhaps you imagine how the field looks, and start thinking about how fluffy their wool is – and you’re asleep in no time. We all think of things differently, and our mental images are all unique to us.
For some, counting sheep serves as a good repetitive task for your brain. This helps keep the mind at a steady pace. This patterned form of thinking can keep other negative thoughts at bay. Many experts, however, suggest repetitive breathing exercises to accompany the mental image, or a “better” image, such as a running waterfall.
Ultimately, counting sheep works for some and not for others. How your brain works and engages with mental images is entirely individual. What relaxes one person does little to distract another. The only way to know is to try it for yourself.