Every few weeks I'm hit with a bad case of insomnia, and it's beyond frustrating. I've tried every trick in the book to deal with it, but I usually end up lying in bed for an hour before giving up and getting up again. One thing I've tried to lull me to sleep is the old wives tale of counting sheep. I haven't had much success with it and it looks like I am not alone. According to a sleep study, counting livestock is not an insomnia cure and it may even be keeping you up longer.
To see what methods were best when it came to falling asleep, researchers in Oxford monitored the sleep habits of insomniacs. On the nights the participants were told to count sheep (or do nothing at all), it actually took them longer to fall asleep in comparison to other methods. What did help the insomniacs was to visualize a relaxing scene. On average, the participants fell asleep 20 minutes sooner when they used this visualization technique. Researchers believe that counting sheep is ineffective because it's too boring and participants stop counting. In comparison, imagining yourself on a tropical island is engaging enough to concentrate on until we tire ourselves out.
The reason positive visualization may work on insomniacs is related to another Oxford sleep study that compared the pre-sleep thoughts of insomniacs and sound sleepers. Researchers found that insomniacs don't usually picture relaxing images before bed and instead focus on worries, things they did during the day, and environmental noises. It looks like having less stress is the key to a good night's sleep — unfortunately, the stress of not sleeping is enough to keep anyone up! Next time I have this problem, I'll be taking a few minutes to meditate all the day's worries away.