Trying to get to sleep by lying in bed, closing one's eyes and counting imaginary sheep jumping over a fence, and hoping to drift off to sleep from the boredom and repetition of the activity. Cartoons may show the sheep in an Imagine Spot
. Proven by science as ineffective
This trope is rarely ever played straight, but more often deconstructed (with the character concentrating into counting sheep so intently that they forget to sleep, if ever interrupted, cue swearing or recounting), parodied (flocks of sheep have a soporific effect because people will try to count them) and/or exaggerated (using some weird method in counting sheep, like counting something else, or the sheep is doing something else other than jumping, or using calculator, or counting to 338,547 sheeps, or setting up an animation of sheep jumping using a computer...). Usually, it will be Played for Laughs
. When it's ineffective, the trope can also be used to show how serious the character's insomnia is. When it's too effective on the other hand, it shows how easily the character drifts off to sleep.
Anime & Manga
- A series of mattress commercials by Serta featured counting sheep who were constantly annoyed that people stopped needing them since the mattress was so comfy, they'd had an easier time falling to sleep.
- One of the more (relatively) famous billboards for South Carolina roadside attraction South of the Border has a motorized depiction of sheep jumping over a fence with the phrase "Your sheep are all counted at South of the Border" (their classic billboards went for these kinds of puns a lot).
- In the first episode of Haruhi-chan, Kyon has a dream, and Mikuru is a sheep that Haruhi is cruelly trying to force into jumping
over the fence through a ring of fire so Kyon can count her.
- In the second episode of Ah! My Goddess TV, when Keiichi and Belldandy are trying to sleep in a car, he explains the idea of counting sheep to her. He ends up awake all night, as Belldandy doesn't realize why you do it. She ends up counting over 38,000 when we last see it.
- In an episode of Pokémon, James, Jessie and Meowth are up in a tree spying on a rancher and his field full of Mareep, which are basically electric sheep. As usual...
James: "One Mareep, two Mareep, three Mareep... *snore* ..."
- In Kurikosan Konnichi Wa, the titular Kuriko prefers to imagine her husband jumping the fence.
Kuriko: Ten Yoichi's, eleven Yoichi's...
Yoichi: Make it sheep, will you?
- In an episode of Gintama, Katsura starts counting sheep to help himself fall asleep. As is typical of the show's nature, this activity eventually leads him to telling a lengthy and tragic story about some high school basketball players, the only things in the story related to the sheep counting being the jumping involved in the sport, and the jersey number of one of the players being the same as that of the sheep he was about to count (Which he finally does at the end of the story).
- From The Wizard of Oz:
I haven't slept in weeks. Tin Man:
Why don't you try counting sheep? Cowardly Lion:
That doesn't do any good — I'm afraid of 'em.
- In Winnie-the-Pooh, Pooh tries to put himself to sleep by counting Heffalumps [creatures that resemble elephants] but every Heffalump takes a pot of his honey, and when "the five hundred and eighty-seventh Heffalumps were licking their jaws, and saying to themselves, 'Very good honey this, I don't know when I've tasted better', Pooh could bear it no longer".
- In Dilbert, a co-worker notes that he used to own a sheep farm. Asked how many sheep he had, he says every time he tried to count them he fell asleep.
- One Charles Addams cartoon has a creepy-looking bald individual (the genesis for Uncle Fester on The Addams Family TV series) getting to sleep by counting sheep being herded into a slaughterhouse.
- Counting sheep apparently does nothing for Adam Young.
- In Once Upon a Mattress, Winnifred, having failed to find any comfortable position on the bed, counts all through the night and by the next morning has reached several thousand without getting any rest.
- In LSD Dream Emulator, sometimes, instead of starting a new dream, you are instead shown an animation. One of these shows sheep jumping over a fence.
- In Worms 3D, the objective of one of the missions is to cure your leader from his insomnia by using the sheep weapon to make him count some sheep.
- The game Pokémon Channel has an entire channel devoted to showing Mareep (electric sheep) jumping over a fence. Pikachu has a tendency to fall asleep while watching it.
- One microgame in WarioWare: Twisted! is called "Falling Asheep", which has you timing sheeps' jumps over a fence in a boy's thought bubble.
- Due to their association with sleep, games in the Paper Mario series have this as an item with inflicts the Sleep status.