Does counting sheep really help us fall asleep?

Wang Yan

Global Courant

The phrase “counting sheep” in the context of a ritual performed before bed actually originated in ancient Britain. Shepherds had to count their sheep, to make sure each of the flock was present and accounted for, before the shepherds could go to bed for the night. Similar to speech utterances that originated in the distant past, this counting system has come to us as a tool to help us sleep.

Does counting sheep help us fall asleep? Many researchers have their doubts.

According to the journal Behavior Research and Therapy, Oxford University scientists recruited insomniacs and divided them into groups. These groups were followed as they tried different mental techniques to put themselves to sleep. On several nights, some groups were instructed to try counting sheep as a distraction from thoughts that would interfere with sleep, and other groups were not instructed at all.

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However, on the nights when all groups were individually instructed to imagine a calming, more engaging scene, such as a beach, the subjects fell asleep an average of 20 minutes earlier than when they were counting sheep or focusing on nothing at all. concentrated. .

Scientists suspect that the mental task of counting sheep is simply too boring for our minds to dwell on for long. More complex and pleasurable tasks, such as imagining an ocean or forest scene, help keep our minds focused until they are finally lulled to sleep.

When our mind is not focused on stressful thoughts, our muscles relax and we breathe more deeply, and we naturally fall asleep.

However, this is not to say that counting sheep to fall asleep is not a very effective technique for some. People who are interested in sheep, or who find them extremely cute and soothing, can use the old Cumbrian and Yorkshire sheep counting system to their advantage.

Perhaps it was best expressed by Chris Idzikowsky of the Edinburgh Sleep Center: “I would go for controlled breathing as a mechanism, but counting sheep is just as good as long as it doesn’t irritate you.”

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Does counting sheep really help us fall asleep?

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