Q: Does counting sheep really help for insomnia?
A: Not usually. Many people with insomnia say they’re unable to turn off worrisome or emotionally arousing thoughts at night. The harder they try, the worse it gets. This often morphs into anxiety about not being able to sleep, which only worsens matters. One traditional remedy is distracting yourself in some way. But counting sheep is too boring to keep distressful thoughts away.
A better alternative is cognitive refocusing treatment. It involves doing personally engaging yet non-arousing mental tasks (such as reciting lyrics from favorite songs or plots from books) while trying to fall asleep and when waking up during the night.
For instance, researchers from Syracuse University in New York have found this strategy to be more effective than standard sleep advice. It tends to be more effective than counting sheep because it uses personalized scripts that are more appealing and easier to focus on.