Counting Sheep

I saw a comic in the paper this past weekend that had images of sheep. One of the sheep was the “head sheep” and told the others to “count off” – as the sheep did so, staring with sheep 1 saying “1″ – the image showed that by sheep #5, #5 had fallen asleep counting sheep. Curious, I just looked the origin of this stereotypical sheep-sleep relationship in the ever useful Wikipedia. Seems this concept comes from medieval times with storytellers telling stories to the king, and later, from a reference in Don Quixote – though goats may have been substituted. Nonetheless, sheep and insomnia have a historic relationship. Visually counting sheep, jumping a fence, or crossing a river one or two at a time are said to be cures for insomnia. I don’t know that insomnia is the issue, but for business owners, and others, there are things that keep one awake at night. For me, it is the issue of going back to sleep after nature’s wake up call at 3 or 4 a.m. Images of many things come to light in the darkness of night and hamper my ability to sleep – I’m sure this is a common entrepreneurial affliction. But, what to do about it? According to cognitive psychology research, better than counting sheep is imagining oneself in a tranquil environment – like being on a beach, or by a waterfall. I haven’t tried that, and I don’t count sheep. I’ve seen my share of sheep in places like New Zealand (where there are more sheep than people) and in Ireland – where I had to sit in the middle of the road, in my rental car, while a flock passed. Instead, I have developed a list of things to count, cars that I’d like to have, lenses and cameras on my wish list, and so forth. I’ve found 70% success in using such techniques to get my mind off the night demons and onto something happier (even if I’ll never own all those cars, cameras or lenses). What do you count?

I am not fond of sheep or, for that matter, goats. Counting sheep as a means of inducing sleep would probably not work for me because it would conjure memories of David’s and my ill fated trip to Ireland during the height of hoof and mouth disease. There were way too many stinky sheep, as far as I am concerned, and, combined with the inconveniences caused by Ireland’s infestation with hoof and mouth disease and my bout with food poisoning, images of sheep would likely lead to nightmares, if I were able to fall asleep. As with most other things in life, what works or appeals to certain people often does not work or appeal to others. As a small business co-owner with David, I share his worries about our company. These worries are sometimes related to things we can control, such as disciplining a wayward employee, while, at other times, they are related to things we cannot control, such as the need to change personal plans due to a change in a client’s trial date and the scheduling conflict it creates. Some problems, such as financial concerns, managing the affairs of elderly parents with dementia, and deaths of dear friends are certainly more serious than others, but the extent to which worrying ruins sleeping seems not to differentiate among problems. In addition, I have learned there are two types of work situations when I can expect little sleep: (1) the night(s) before a mock trial and (2) the night(s) before jury selection. Both of these situations involve me staying in a hotel and, although I have devised numerous strategies to enhance sleep, more often than not, I wake up during the early morning hours to see what time it is and that’s when thoughts of the stressful day that awaits begin. I have discovered no strategy to induce sleep in these situations. Instead, I look forward to sleeping as soon as my work is completed. (And, I’ll say “no, thanks” to anyone’s offer of lamb chops. When I say I don’t like sheep, I mean it.)

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