Should you be counting sheep?

Can occupying your mind with sheep help you fall asleep?

Can occupying your mind with sheep help you fall asleep?


Have you ever laid in bed watching the minutes tick by, knowing the alarm is set for early in the morning and you just can’t drift off? Counting sheep is a timeless suggestion to help you fall asleep, but where does it come from and does it really help?

The History

Sheep counting may go back to very early shepherds. These shepherds would have needed to literally count their sheep to make sure they were all safe before they could go to sleep.

Why it Doesn’t Work

Sleep specialist Michael Decker PhD, says that counting actually activates parts of the brain that processes information. Putting this part of the brain to work may stimulate you rather than help you fall asleep.


Other studies suggest you should try a different method.  A study performed by Oxford researchers that found people who were told to visualize a relaxing scene such as a beach, waterfall or walk in the woods fell asleep on average twenty minutes faster than those who were given no instruction.

The idea is that you can occupy your mind with something relaxing so that you are not thinking about tasks, relationships or other worries that might cause stress instead of help you fall asleep. These relaxing scenes are enough to keep you busy without stimulating your brain.

Try Again

If you can’t fall asleep after thirty minutes, you should get up. Move to a different room and read or listen to relaxing music until you feel sleepy. Then return to bed and try again. Try not to read or do other activities in bed. Doing so can help train your body to stay awake in bed.

Worth a Try

While the research shows counting sheep may not be the best option for drifting off to sleep, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try. Picturing relaxing scenes or counting sheep will not have any of the side effects of sleeping pills or other medications.

If your insomnia is not severe or it is related to a short terms stress, feel free to try any at home tricks to help you drift off. However, if your sleeplessness is interfering with your day to day activities, counting sheep certainly won’t help. See a doctor so that you can get some rest and feel healthy again.


Image: Counting Sheep by Amen Clinic

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