The term “counting sheep” is a term referring to the action shepherds over a hundred years ago would perform of counting their sheep at the beginning and end of the day to ensure they had them all. The only connection to sleep I can see this having is that the activity was so monotonous that the shepherds would have to count the sheep in twenties and keep pebbles in their pockets to keep track of the number they had counted. This phrase has been passed down through generations as a remedy to insomnia and is almost always associated with sleep.
While most people today have retired the traditional psychological methods to go to sleep and turned to sleeping pills, there are still contemporary and natural methods that have been proven to help individuals get to sleep.
The biggest mistake people tend to make when attempting to fall asleep is trying too hard. Relaxation is the key to getting to sleep and having a restful sleep period.
Establish a Bedtime Routine
This is perhaps the easiest and most important aspect that can aid in difficulty falling asleep. Most children are encouraged to sleep through the nightly routine established by their parents. Replicate this activity by reading an enjoyable book with only a reading lamp on each night before bed. 1
If you aren’t an animal person, counting beads on a strand might work as an interesting alternative to counting sheep. The idea behind counting beads is the same as that of counting sheep. Repetitive stimuli such as this have been shown to be soothing and inspire boredom. The exercise also tires the brain by causing you to use your right brain to see the image and your left brain to count. 2
Yoga’s whole purpose is to relax and exercise the entire body and mind. Therefore, light Yoga stretching is ideal for trying to fall asleep. Simple Yoga breathing exercises regularly before bed and very simple poses that relieve stress can lull one into sleep. Various yoga poses can relax the body and mind and don’t even require a mat or getting out of bed. 1
There is something entirely soothing about sitting in a rocking chair or lounging on a hammock. So soothing, in fact, that light rocking has been proven to help individuals fall asleep. In the same way that a baby is rocked to sleep by his or her parents, adults also appreciate and benefit from the rocking sensation. 2
Mark Twain was known to have practiced taking a hot bath and then lying on the cool bathroom floor to help fight his insomnia. Air and body temperatures have a great effect on individuals’ sleep cycle, especially REM sleep. This need for temperature regulation is typical and can be mocked by a cooling or gel infused mattress. Many people experience difficulty sleeping due to a mattress that is too hot or too cold. This is also why you may turn your pillow to the cold side for needed relief from body heat buildup in the mattress and pillow. 2
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This is simply done by tensing and relaxing muscles. Beginning with the toes, squeeze your muscle tightly for 5-10 seconds and releasing to relax for 15-20 seconds. Work your way up your body’s muscle groups and end with the eyes to sooth muscles and tire your mind. 1
This is a very popular method for relaxation and sleep. Simply imagine yourself in a relaxing situation or place such as lying on a beach, watching a waterfall or even simply listening to music. When you exercise all of your senses to fully imagine the situation the body and mind will become serene. 1
1. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.
2. Carskadon, Mary A. Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreaming. New York: Macmillan Pub., 1993. Page 149