Japanese children’s book suggests we might have been doing it wrong all this time.

It’s a cliché seen everywhere from classical literature to Saturday morning cartoons; the concept of counting sheep in your head to fall asleep. It’s even well-known in Japan.

However, in the real world it never seemed to make much sense, and in 2002 a study at Oxford University declared that envisioning a line of fluffy animals jumping over a fence actually delayed going to sleep.

Although flying in the face of a time-tested tactic, it’s hard to argue with science, especially from Oxford. So, the concept was virtually dead in the water and dismissed as ancient hogwash, until along came a Japanese animal trivia book for kids that raises interesting questions that may blow the whole thing wide open again.

The book, Kodomo ni Daiuke Tanoshi Zatsugaku Quiz 365 (365 Super Fun Trivia Quiz for Kids), tackles counting sheep as it relates to Japanese people, and rather than agree with or dispute the findings out of Oxford, they look at it from a whole new perspective.

According to author Tomohiko Nakamura, the reason that counting sheep doesn’t work in Japan is because of the differences in the words for “sheep.” One of the big differences between spoken English and Japanese is that English tends to be much more breathy with its consonant sounds.

▼ This difference is often brought up in the NHK English-learning kids’ program Eigo de Asobo featuring Atsugiri Jason. As you can see, the kids love it.

In particular, the English “sh” sound requires a forceful exhale of air against the back of the teeth. When done repeatedly it won’t be long until you’ll need to take a deep breath in order to continue doing so.

Compare this to the Japanese word for sheep “hitsuji.” Personally, without that breathy “sh” I can easily tally off twice as many hitsuji (even with the biki” counter) before needing to refill my lungs than I can with the word “sheep.”

So in conclusion, Nakamura says that Japanese people can’t use the same animal to kick-start that deep breathing. This also indirectly suggests that the real reason to count sheep isn’t to envision them as a mental exercise, but to actually say the words as a physical exercise to promote steady deep breaths.

The reason the Oxford study hadn’t examined this is understandable since the theory is often traced back to a tale from the Disciplina Clericalis in which a servant is telling a restless king a story about carrying sheep across a river two-by-two to get him to sleep. In this case, the king is meant to imagine the sheep rather than actually count them out loud.

However, these 12th-century Spanish stories were said to have derived from even older Islamic tales so the idea’s true origin and form remains murky. This also presents the problem with the book’s theory though, because clearly the modern English word “sheep” wasn’t used in the Middle East centuries ago, so it couldn’t have been the original.

Looking at the word in several other languages reveals equally and more breathy sounds, making many of them a potential source or catalyst of counting sheep. So, let’s look at “sheep” in the prime candidate of source languages, Arabic.

Well, I don’t know about you, but saying “khuruf” over and over again would certainly get me to sleepytown in no time. That being said, this word and/or its pronunciation may very well have evolved over time, casting a bit of doubt on this theory. It would also suggest that the effectiveness of the English word “sheep” is really nothing more than a fluke.

Probably steadily repeating any mindless word with the right pronunciation would work just as well or even better in some cases – though “khuruf” seems really hard to beat.

▼ Caution: Counting Mr. Satos may lead to nightmares

In the end, the proof is in the pudding and results may vary, so go ahead and try counting a breathy noun next time you want to get to sleep quickly. It can’t hurt to try. Just remember to say it loud and proud to maximize proper breathing. Whispering, falsettos, and other half-measures absolutely won’t cut it.

Source: GetNaviWeb
Top image: Pakutaso (1, 2) (edited by SoraNews24)
Insert image: ©SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!