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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 15:51 GMT
Sheep counting is tired technique
Sheep, PA
Don't bother counting
There is little point in insomniacs trying to count sheep in their heads in an attempt to get off to sleep, say researchers.

The idea that you can nod off while imagining the woolly animals jumping through a hedge has been around for years, but scientists who have tested it on volunteers say other strategies are likely to be more effective.

Thinking about a calming waterfall or a tranquil beach was more likely to induce sleep, Allison Harvey, from Oxford University, UK, told New Scientist magazine.

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

Economic benefit

Harvey and a colleague took 50 insomniacs and asked them to use different techniques to get off to sleep.

Some were told to count those sheep; others to imagine a relaxing scene; and a third group was left to its own devices.

On average, those picturing a calming scene fell asleep more than 20 minutes earlier than on nights they did not 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. "Counting sheep is just too mundane to effectively keep worries away," Harvey said.

The weekly magazine said the findings could have wide-ranging appeal. "One in 10 people suffer from chronic insomnia, and scientists estimate that lost sleep costs the US economy $35bn a year in sick days and accidents," it said.

See also:

28 Jan 02 | Scotland
Pillow talk for insomniacs
19 Sep 00 | Health
Lack of sleep 'risks lives'
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