Well, I was having trouble sleeping last night, so I turned to that age-old remedy: counting sheep.
I picture them jumping over the baseboard of my bed with a “baaa” as they go.
One … two … three …
And for some reason, I see little cartoon sheep – white balls of fur with black faces – not the real ones I’ve only ever seen at the State Fair. I guess those guys don’t seem agile enough to be jumping over a baseboard.
Four … five … six …
And as I was lying there counting, the whole activity struck me as odd. So like any child of the 21st century, I decided to Google it.
It turns out that counting sheep dates back hundreds or maybe thousands of years. Miguel de Cervantes referenced counting goats (hey, they’re close to sheep) in his 1605 book “Don Quixote.”
I believe I was introduced to it by the less brilliant but still insightful mentors of my childhood: Bert and Ernie on “Sesame Street.”
Seven … eight … nine …
The real goal of counting sheep is to occupy your mind to stop thinking about all the things that are keeping you awake. It really takes focus for me to continue counting because all those other thoughts – No iPhone 5, seriously, Apple? Did I lock the back door? What should I write for my blog? – keep sneaking in.
10 … 11 … 12 …
Well, back to my Internet research (I used Wikipedia; don’t arrest me journalism police). A recent study by researchers at Oxford University found that imagining a beach or a waterfall expends more mental energy and is a more effective sleep remedy than counting sheep.
How about counting sheep on the beach? I can see my cartoon sheep now with big smiles and sunglasses.
13 … 14 … 15 …
In my vast research, I didn’t find an origin for counting sheep, so I’m going to propose that a shepherd probably came up with it. But part of a shepherd’s job is to count sheep and make sure he hasn’t lost any, so maybe being a shepherd is just a really boring, sleep-inducing job.
Since you can’t really check “shepherd” on your tax forms for occupation anymore, it seems like the modern-day equivalent to that job would be some type of night watchman.
So a more modern spin on counting sheep might be counting cars on a car lot or even robbers (cartoon ones with striped jail outfits and black masks) jumping over a chain-link fence.
Seven … eight … wait … 16 … 17 …
But then again, there’s always Ambien.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Jacob Glassner, News Editor/Plate Spinner
Jacob usually has his eyes glued to a computer screen, editing stories and making sure the paper gets out the door each week. Multi-tasking is his modus operandi – similar to the plate spinners you’d see on the old “Ed Sullivan Show.” Turn ons: freshly-sharpened pencils. Turn offs: exclamation points!!!