When you are lying awake, unable to fall asleep, traditional advice says to count sheep. But if you find yourself still sleepless after counting livestock, try this sleep trick backed by cognitive science on how to purposefully scramble your thoughts until you can fall asleep.

Canadian cognitive scientist Luc Beaudoin calls his solution “cognitive shuffling,” or serial diverse imagining. It’s a technique where you play a word game to shuffle your thoughts into random images and words to encourage your brain to fall asleep.

In his 2013 paper published on the subject, Beaudoin argues that his technique works because our waking brains are wired to make sense out of everything, and we cannot fall asleep as long as we are in this alert sense-making mode that wants to dwell and analyze instead of sleep.

To help ourselves relax, we need a mental distraction like cognitive shuffling to tell the subcortical regions in our brains that “management processes are no longer managing concerns and making sense, they are in shutdown mode.”

Here’s how it works.

The word game that will put you to sleep

The website for the mySleepButton app, which Beaudoin developed to do the work of cognitive shuffling for you, outlines how to do cognitive shuffling without a smartphone’s prompting.

1) As soon as you are ready to fall asleep, think of a random, emotionally neutral word consisting of at least five unique letters. (You want to stay away from emotionally charged words that will cause you to think too hard.)

2) After you’ve picked a word, think of a list of words that begin with your chosen word’s first letter. Picture each word in your mind for about five to ten seconds. “Bedtime” is used as the example on Beaudoin’s site:

BABY. Imagine a baby.
BALL. Imagine a ball rolling down a street.
BLINK. Image someone blinking Read More Here