Overcoming Insomnia: No More Counting Sheep

Florence Cardinal Health Guide
  • Can't sleep? There are a number of ways to overcome insomnia. According to the Scientific American, however, you can forget about counting sheep. It's not going to work.


    Many times, insomnia is caused by an inability to shut off one's thoughts and distract the mind from worry. In a sleep study conducted by Oxford University's Dr. Allison Harvey, MA (B.SC., Master of Clinical Psychology, PH.D.), 50 insomniacs were split into three groups and assigned a different distraction method.


    Dr. Harvey reports that one group counted sheep while another group tried a different method - picturing a relaxing scene. The folks in the second group fell asleep more quickly than those who counted sleep or those in yet another group who did nothing at all.

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    A.J. Jacobs, writing in a recent issue of Esquire, agrees. "Forget counting sheep -- unless you're trying to lay awake a little longer," he says. He goes on to suggest a method he uses involving imagining colors and various objects.


    Why doesn't counting sheep work? Some experts suggest that counting sheep is a humdrum task, probably too boring to keep one's mind off the stress and worries that are causing the sleeplessness in the first place. Or, perhaps as another insomniac suggests, it's difficult to fall asleep while watching these wide-awake creatures bouncing merrily over a fence.


    "Picturing an engaging scene takes up more brain space than the same dirty old sheep," says Allison Harvey. "Plus it's easier to stay with it because it's more interesting," she adds.

    Another method, thought suppression, also failed to bring results. In this method, every negative thought, every worry should be immediately replaced with a positive thought or an affirmation. The problem is that coming up with these positive thoughts while burying the negative ones is a lot of work, and requires a lot of thinking, and thinking is just what the insomniac needs to avoid.


    A peaceful scene, on the other hand, relaxes the mind and lets worries drift away. There is no need to think hard to create that peace. Just let your mind drift.


    Go to bed, get comfortable and close your eyes. Then remember someplace where you felt at peace, perhaps at the beach, or sitting beside a lake or river. Some people find it relaxing to buy a small fountain for their bedroom; others use a sound machine or CD to recreate the soothing sound of water. You can also just let your imagination run wild with the repetitious splash of waves or the never-ending song of a stream or river.

    Perhaps you'll find your peace somewhere else - a prairie, meadow or a mountainside. If you are unable to remember such a place, then use your imagination. CDs and tapes are available that can help you. Some of these use a soothing voice to lead you on peaceful journeys. Some incorporate the sounds of nature and soft music.


    Sweet dreams!




Published On: March 28, 2008