If you’re like the 50 to 70 million Americans who suffer from sleep-related problems, you probably feel like you’ve tried every single trick in the book to get some shut-eye — including the good, ol’ counting sheep strategy. However, a sleep expert has created a different method to fall asleep much faster, and it’s a little more fun than tallying up animals.
According to Luc Beaudoin, PhD, an author and professor at Simon Fraser University, the big issue for many adults when attempting to fall asleep is that they’re still actively trying to think, analyze, and problem-solve, all of which keeps our brains keyed up for longer and makes it more difficult to wind down. That’s why something like counting sheep doesn’t work: It’s a hefty thinking exercise that doesn’t give your mind anywhere else to roam. Instead, he says we need to take a page out of the playbook of children and try a method he calls “cognitive shuffling,” where you imagine instead of think to get to sleep.
Dr. Beaudoin’s steps for cognitive shuffling are very straightforward. Simply come up with a random, neutral word that has at least five letters in it, preferably something without tons of repeating letters. For example, take the word “garden hose.” TK BUT THIS IS TWO WORDS? Spell out the word in your mind, and then think of another word that begins with the same first letter (in this case, “G”), like “garlic.” Take a few moments to slowly conjure up an image of a clove of garlic in your mind before moving onto another “G” word. You can even imagine yourself slicing garlic before finding that next word. From there, continue this cycle of deciding on a word and picturing it vividly in your mind until you feel yourself drifting off. That’s it!
The helpful aspect of this approach is its flexibility. Dr. Beaudoin says you can stay on any given letter for as long as you want, or you can move to another letter if you’re having trouble easily coming up with words that trigger your imagination. Feel free to adjust the exercise as much as you need, as long as you let your mind wander.
You may even be able to say goodbye to counting those sheep once and for all!