Counting sheep is just one way to lull an insomniac to sleep. Counting is a repetitive act that produces a meditative state that relaxes the mind and helps person sleep. But other mental games that use imagery also help relax a restless mind. The attention to details in a mental image soothes wandering thoughts that would otherwise keep an insomniac awake.
The repetitious act of counting helps focus the mind and relax the body in preparation for sleep. However, a study released by Oxford University suggests that merely counting is not enough to put someone to sleep. The study revealed that other, more challenging, mind games cause an insomniac to fall asleep faster. (see ref 2, 3 and 5)
Counting sheep is a well-known example of a game that calms the restless mind; in fact, the game is almost iconic for its association with sleeplessness. But simply counting sheep may not prove engaging enough to keep the mind's attention. Counting backwards in multiples of seven is an example of a more challenging game. The concentration needed to successfully perform a complicated counting game, such as the multiple of sevens game, quiets nagging thoughts and allows the body to relax. (see ref 3)
Games with Imagery
The human imagination is a powerful weapon in the fight for sleep. The body responds to a peaceful and positive mental image by relaxing. This allows a sleeper to slowly drift into a deep sleep. As with complicated counting games, the concentration needed to create a strong image pushes aside thoughts that may be causing anxiety and sleeplessness. This strong image is created by paying attention to the details in a scene. For example, a sleeper can use her imagination to describe the details of her hometown or a favourite quiet spot. She slowly describes each detail and engages the mind with creating more. The more a sleeper can concentrate on the mental task at hand the quicker she will be able to put herself to sleep. (see ref 3 and ref 4) Another example of relaxing imagery is the seaside or near a quiet stream. A variety of different games with mental images are used to help the sleepless with rest. An unsatisfied sleeper can even invent his own imagery game to help him sleep. (see ref 3)
The feeling of being weightless is relaxing. This weightlessness is achieved through a different form of mental imagery that produces a specific effect on the body. In these imagined circumstances the sleeper is focusing on a physical sensation, rather then the details in a mental picture.picturing himself as an astronaut floating high above earth, surrounded by silence is one example of an imagined circumstance a sleeper can use. Floating in water also simulates a pleasant weightlessness, so a sleeper might imagine himself floating atop the sea or submerged in a warm bath. (see ref 3 and 4)
Someone suffering from insomnia can create a routine for herself before bed by using both mental and physical exercises. For example, stretching and deep breathing exercises prepare the body for sleep, while meditation before bed relaxes both mind and body. These exercises combined with a cup of herbal tea and a little mental imagery puts the most restless of minds to sleep. (see ref 1 and 4)