Counting sheep? Most insomniacs using other tricks to fall asleep


By Geir O'Rourke

10 Nov 2022

Over a third of insomniacs are regularly attempting some form of trick to get to sleep, but most aren’t counting sheep, survey data reveals.

Instead, the most popular strategies typically involve breathing or relaxation exercises, according to the poll answered by 1028 Norwegian adults earlier this year.

Among those who reported using a sleep hack, just 7% said they tried counting sheep, nearly half the proportion who would “actively use a mobile phone, tablet or PC” (14%).

All up, some 34% of respondents with insomnia said they used a method or trick to fall asleep. Symptoms were assessed with the validated Bergen Insomnia Scale, and chronic insomnia based on ICSD-3/DSM-5 criteria.

But even among the participants without chronic insomnia, 28% regularly employed such a strategy, the researchers reported in Journal of Sleep Research (link here).

“This may suggest that for some people, such a strategy may be effective or at least does not seem to disrupt sleep initiation, they wrote.

“Most people do not use methods or tricks to fall asleep, but chronic insomnia was associated with a higher frequency of such use. Still, the use of methods/tricks was also seen among participants without insomnia.”

What strategy do most people use to fall asleep

Count sheep 25 (7%)
Follow a particular train of thought 86 (24%)
Perform relaxation/breathing exercises 131 (37%)
Reading a book 81 (23%)
Get out of bed and wait until I become sleepy 45 (13%)
Listen to music, podcast or similar 84 (24%)
Active use of mobile phone/tablet/PC 47 (13%)
Other methods/tricks 73 (21%)

Percentage among the 352 respondents who reported using such a method/trick. Participants allowed to give multiple answers.

Another key finding was that deliberate sleep strategies were more commonly used by women (40%) compared with men (29%).

Participants were also asked about circadian preference, with 37% reporting a morning type preference, 35% evening type and 28% intermediate.

All up, 24.9% of respondents reported chronic insomnia in the representative sample of Norwegian adults; higher than reported in many other studies but potentially indicating the condition was on the rise, the authors wrote.

They noted insomnia diagnosis was based on questionnaire data only, not a clinical interview, leaving open the possibility that some participants’ symptoms may be better explained by other sleep disorders such as OSA.

On the other hand, the high prevalence of insomnia was also consistent with the reported impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sleep, the researchers added.


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