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Hey, Need Some Help Sleeping?

Hey, Need Some Help Sleeping?

Friday 7th April 2017

Sick Of Counting Sheep?

When I toss and turn at night and go through all the usual rituals of switching off and relaxing, I have wondered to myself on more than one occasion - "where on earth does counting sheep actually come from?" Who on earth came up with the concept that imaging a common farmyard animal could actually help you fall asleep; and to also picture them jumping over a fence as well? What's the connection?

There are references right back to 1832 in Illustrations of Political Economy by Harriet Martineau about counting sheep to attain sleep. In fact, there are even earlier claims that in 1605, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes made suggestions of counting goats for similar results. Stemmed from a shepherds' counting system to manage his flock, this has been adapted over the years as a largely practiced stereotype to help fall asleep.

So, what's the catch? I suppose as a mental exercise, where you count an endless series of identical white sheep, jump over a fence, this simple and repetitive task, could quite easily produce a soothing rhythm to help the mind relax. Sleep, in theory shouldn't be too far a way! However, for those whose mind finds it difficult to focus on one thing and a body quite wound up from a day of rushing about, even the simple concept of imagining those sheep jumping for any period of time can be quite an impossible job!

An example of my night -
I begin with the first four or five sheep, proud to have reached that far, when suddenly Shaun The Sheep will appear, his theme tune will hum through my head and the funny farmer from his TV show pops up, the one with the bad eye sight and confused demeanor. I will become amused as I consider the character and how he reminds me of my dad, I then wonder if he's okay and recall the last time I spoke to him, maybe I should give him a call in the morning, perhaps even see if he'd like to meet up for a coffee? I wonder what days I had free coming up, oh, and I must remember to take the chicken out of freezer first thing as I wouldn't have a chance to pop to a shop tomorrow as I was really busy, those cheques need playing in, that vegan cheese needs making and...oh yes, those sheep.

I'm not sure the Counting Sheep works for me as my mind and tense body are just too active.

So, how about some alternatives? Interested?

A while ago my physio gave me the best instruction to help me relax and fall asleep. She was probably getting a little tired of my regular visits where she would endlessly hack away at the rock hard, taut trapezius muscles around the back of my neck that would immediately solidify again after one school run! She introduced me to The Mitchell Method.

The "fight or flight" response is how our bodies are programmed to react to stress. Whether we are going to be running a way at 100 miles an hour or throwing some big old punches, our bodies tense up, the muscles engage and our minds are ready to act. When stressed for long periods, your muscles will be in that state the whole time. How exhausting that is? Imagine how hard are your muscles working?

Can you tell if you are tense from stress? If you know you do any of the following, then YES!

- Frowning
- Tightness/clenching jaw/teeth grinding
- Hunched shoulders
- Holding breath patterns
- A "closed in" posture
- Tightly crossed legs
- Clenched hands.

This Mitchell Method is based on the principles of being able to recognize and be aware of the tense muscles and joints. Then, you instruct the body to move out of that position of stress and then STOP. This order is then followed by FEEL - let your mind becomes aware of the feeling of this new, relaxed position, hopefully re-programming yourself. With practice this becomes easier and more natural and just a gentle reminder to your body.

The Mitchell Method doesn't have to be used at night time, in fact it can be used at any time of the day. You just need to be in a comfortable position and able to concentrate on the exact orders you need to give your body.

1. COMMAND (Example: Tell you body - pull shoulders down towards your feet)
2. STOP (hold the position)
3. FEEL (the space between your ears and shoulders is now bigger)

Use this 3 step on all parts of your body.

Here's a test for you - start on the shoulders and move randomly on to other parts of your body, then, go back to your shoulders - are they in the same new position still? Or bounced back up to nearer your ears again? Mine had! The first few times I ran through this method, I would go back to areas I had worked on and found they had returned to the same, tensed up position! No wonder I was struggling with neck pain and sleep!

So, armed with The Mitchell Method, I decided to create a warming, bedtime drink, a decent relaxing playlist on my Apple Music and take myself to bed with a new routine to see if things got better.

I had been reading up on all the health benefits of turmeric and cinnamon and considered these may just be a really good alternative to the usual traditional hot chocolate to help send you to sleep. Hey, chocolate is a stimulant after all! Have a go at the following recipe -

Turmeric And Cinnamon Bedtime Latte


1 big mugful of unsweetened almond or coconut milk
1 tsp ground or fresh turmeric
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp honey
optional ½ tsp root ginger or ground ginger

When smooth, heat in a saucepan until warm and frothy.

The anti-inflammatory properties of the spices used in this recipe should help soothe and calm the body and mind after a busy day and is the ideal warm, milky mug to associate with a really good bedtime routine.

So, I can't say I have eradicated those sleepless nights entirely, but my goodness, it's improved things so much! My body also feels much looser and chilled, a regular sports massage has replaced my need for such rigorous physio sessions and I am feeling much more focused on my body. No more counting farmyard animals and feeling annoyed by my lack of concentration to add to all the other frustrations in my life!

In conclusion, I reckon we should all be a little more aware of the tension we hold in our bodies, take time to try to programme our bodies to re-learn the neutral positions we should be adhering to. Maybe our sports injuries, general aches pains and tired bodies will be reduced and good quality sleep more easily achieved. So, warm up the turmeric lattes, be more in tune with yourself and be a bit more like our good friend "Little Bo Peep' - LOSE THOSE RIDICULOUS SHEEP!