Counting Sheep

I’ve recently had trouble falling asleep at a regular time every night.  I blame Sesame Street.

The canonical method of falling asleep is to count imaginary sheep.  In one Sesame Street sketch, Bert explains this method to Ernie when Ernie is keeping Bert awake because Ernie can’t sleep.  However, Ernie’s imagination is so vivid that Bert can hear the sheep baaing as they pass overhead.  Then Ernie, missing the point (as usual), decides that counting sheep is boring and decides to count fire engines instead.  The blaring sirens send Bert leaping out of bed in panic and protest.  Ernie promises to count balloons then — balloons are quiet, right? — but Ernie imagines an inflating balloon, which bursts with a wall-rattling boom.

I saw this sketch repeatedly as a child.  Now every time I try to count sheep, I hear fire engine sirens and exploding balloons instead.  I can’t fall asleep with such a din any more than Bert could.

I also blame my friend Ian.  His parents raise sheep in rural Michigan.  Counting imaginary sheep just reminds me of his tales of the antics of real sheep.  This in turn leads me to recall his family’s famous Sheep Castration Parties (I kid you not.) and the techniques employed there.  The “bricks method” in particular evokes a rather visceral reaction.  It’s difficult to fall asleep in the instinctive sympathetic “testicle protection crouch”.

Warner Brothers’ cartoons must certainly share some blame as well.  When I do actually manage to imagine sheep, they often get whisked away in mid-count with a suspicious ‘Zing!’ by “Ralph Wolf” (who wasn’t fooling anyone with that red nose; we all know it was just Wile E. Coyote.).  I’d almost rather let him have them though, because Sam Sheep Dog makes a lot of noise beating the Coyote when he catches him, interrupted only by their shift change whistle, which always blows just as I’m finally nodding off.

Some of you may be saying, “You don’t need to count sheep to fall asleep.”  That’s quite true.  Counting llamas is a big improvement over sheep in many ways.  They can be trained not to kick or spit, they don’t bring unpleasant veterinary stories to mind, and they can handle coyotes on their own.  (They’re actually used to guard sheep from predators.)  However, their braying sometimes bothered my neighbors — my imagination is nearly as vivid as Ernie’s.

I used to read myself to sleep every night, but I decided that was a bad habit.  I would stay up too late with new books, I strained my eyes, and I nearly smothered when I dozed off under a copy of War and Peace.  Also, reading was becoming a Pavlovian trigger for sleep.  Reading a book in two page chunks separated by naps isn’t very efficient, especially when you’re reading a recipe in a cookbook while making dinner.

Thus I have turned to animal enumeration methods.  I’m sure I can eventually find some sufficiently placid animal to count.  A friend suggested meditation exercises to clear my mind of all these associations, but really, if I was capable of that, then counting sheep would work in the first place!

I would write more, but it’s time to go to bed.  I can hear the sirens approaching already.