Sleep fact or fiction? Does counting sheep help you sleep?

4th August 2014 by Peter Hames

Ask the Sleepio Expert How to sleep better

Sleep fact or fiction? Does counting sheep help you sleep?

Photo credit: Peter More

It’s time to put another one of our favourite myths about sleep to our Sleepio experts to find out what’s sleep fact or sleep fiction. This time it’s the old classic – counting sheep. Some people count stars, Bing Crosby preferred to count his blessings. But back to sheep… so, does counting sheep help you sleep? Over to Dr Simon Kyle to find out more:

Well, there is something in this… but it’s not got anything to do with sheep! The idea behind counting sheep is that it gives our brain something else to focus on rather than on the fact we’re not sleeping. Absorption in a task is an aspect of mindfulness and can help relax you. It’s also repetitive – one sheep, two sheep, three … You get the idea! And repetitive activities can help calm the mind allowing us to drop off.

But a word of warning on the sheep… for some of us, this is just too boring so it may be that your thoughts intrude and before you know it, you’re back recycling the day’s events or running through what’s going to happen tomorrow.

There’s no clinical evidence about counting sheep but there is research exploring different techniques on how to distract our minds from the thoughts that get in the way of falling asleep. One technique that’s proven to work is using imagery – imagine a scene that is calming and relaxing like walking through a favourite park or sailing in a gentle breeze… something that is engaging rather than exciting to the brain. It’s useful to prepare it in advance so that when we go to sleep, it is just like ‘rolling the tape’. Try to use all your senses, not just your mind’s eye and relax into the scene as if you were really there. It’s up to you whether there are sheep involved …

So sleep fact or sleep fiction?

Fiction – but there’s a grain of useful advice in there!


Thank you, Dr Simon!

Tell us about your sleep myth and we’ll tell you whether it’s sleep fact or sleep fiction!

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