At 10 p.m. on the dot, I crawl into my cozy-soft $15 sheets, shut the lights off, and make mental bets with myself about how long it will take to reach REM. Sometimes I’m out “like a light” (à la Travis Scott feat. Drake); other times, I stare at the inside of my eyelids for hour after hour. Ever since I was a kid, one method for hitting the hay has worked like a charm: counting sheep.
Allow me to be super specific here. When I say that I’m “counting sheep,” I mean conjuring little sheep in my mind and watching them jump over a fence with a serene pastoral backdrop. As each one lands in the grass, I mentally whisper “one sheep, two sheep, three sheep”—and so on. On an average night, the farm in my mind features a numerous flock. But hey, I get to sleep ¯_(ツ)_/¯.
“Counting sheep can help to calm the mind because it gives you a specific and neutral focus.” —Stephen Sokole, founder of Journey Meditation
Counting sheep is really just a tool for hushing your inner-monologue, which is why its so gosh darn calming, explains meditation teacher Stephen Sokole, founder of Journey Meditation. “Counting sheep can help to calm the mind because it gives you a specific and neutral focus,” he says, “which allows the busy, active mind to settle down.” The practice itself appears across many traditions of meditation. For example, in Zen, it’s called “susokukan,” or “observing the breath with numbers.”
Apart from enumerating “fluffy goats” (the name I called them as a wee child), Sokole has a few other recommendations. “The technique I recommend for relaxing at bedtime is actually letting go of the desire to sleep,” he says. “This can be accomplished with many practices, such as counting, following the breath, or scanning the body from the feet to the head.” If you like the visualization, you could really count anything you wanted: cats, avocados, naked mole-rats. Hey, it’s your brain—you get to choose the kind of livestock that lulls you to sleep.
Still awake? Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique that works like a dream, or consider buying a weighted blanket.