Counting sheep is the age old method of falling to sleep, but does it really work?
Those finding hard to sleep often seek distraction and some distractions work better than others, a team at Oxford University has found. Researchers have discovered that picturing an engaging scene takes up more brain space than the same old sheep. In addition it is easier to focus on an engaging scene because its way more interesting that sheep.
Harvey and her colleague Suzanna Payne asked 50 insomniacs to try different distraction techniques on certain nights, to see which helped them fall asleep more quickly. One group conjured up a tranquil and relaxing scene such as a waterfall or being on holiday, while a second were asked to think of a distraction such as counting sheep. A third group were left to their own devices.
On average, those picturing a relaxing scene fell asleep over 20 minutes earlier than on nights they didn’t try the technique. But both the sheep-counters and the controls took slightly longer than normal to fall asleep on the nights of the experiment. The researches concluded that counting sheep is just too mundane to effectively keep worries away.
If you find it difficult to conjure up vivid visulisations, aromatherapy may help. A few drops of lavendar, chamomile or neroli essential oils may assist you to relax and unwide, and counjure up tranquil springtime fields.
A G Harvey, S Payne (2002) The management of unwanted pre-sleep thoughts in insomnia: distraction with imagery versus general distraction. Behaviour Research and Therapy vol 40, issue 4, 267 - 277