Weight Loss

This Counting Trick — No, It’s Not Sheep — Always Puts Me to Sleep

Woman falling asleep.

If you’ve ever struggled to fall asleep, you’ve probably been told to do some kind of counting trick that’s “guaranteed” to help you drift off. No, not counting sheep (what does that even mean, honestly), but a type of sleep hack that incorporates numbers and the comforting, rhythmic feel of counting in a way that makes your brain relax and finally fall asleep.

I never had much trouble falling asleep until a couple years ago when all this *gestures vaguely* started and my sleep schedule became inconsistent due to anxiety. Sometimes even when I do fall asleep right away, I’ll wake up again in the middle of the night, wide awake and heart pounding for no discernible reason, unable to sleep for hours, if at all.

I did my best with melatonin and other sleep supplements, but it wasn’t until I started meditating that I truly found a solution. My favorite meditation app, Headspace, offers sleep meditations with different points of focus, like winding down, relaxing your body, or calming down a racing mind. But the trick I found most helpful — which, yep, has to do with counting — came in Headspace’s meditation on falling back to sleep.

Counting From 10,000 to Fall Asleep

The sleep counting trick I learned is pretty simple: you just count backwards from 10,000. I know, I know, it’s a big number. The first time I got this prompt, I had to replay the meditation to make sure I heard right. 10,000? But the thing about choosing a big number like 10,000 is that there’s a very high chance you’ll fall asleep before you hit zero. The 8,000 range is about as far as I’ve had to go, and it usually works even faster than that.

The reason this trick works, according to the meditation, is that it gives your brain just enough to focus on, so that you don’t get sucked back into whatever stressful thoughts are keeping you awake. (Especially if those thoughts are along the lines of, “Why can’t I fall asleep?! I have to wake up in four hours. Now three hours and 59 minutes. Oh god, now three hours and 58 minutes.”) Every time your mind wanders to whatever is stressing you out, the instructor encourages you to simply return to counting, starting with whatever number you can remember last. And you know those moments where as soon as you think you’re falling asleep your body takes that as a cue to wake back up again? That’s when I found the counting most helpful. Because once I realized I was awake again, it didn’t feel like I had to get caught back up in the same anxiety; I just knew it was time to go back to the counting once again.

Eventually, your mind starts to slow down. The pause between each number becomes longer, and then the counting stops altogether as you fall asleep. I use this trick all the time, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

There are plenty of other counting hacks you can try for sleep; I’ve heard that counting forwards or backwards by seven or three works too, although that’s too much math for me personally. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, I’d definitely encourage you to try counting back from 10,000 and challenging yourself to hit zero. If it works for you like it does for me, you probably never will (and that’s a good thing).

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