Tin Man: Why don't you try counting sheep?
Cowardly Lion: That doesn't do any good — I'm afraid of 'em.
A character desperately needs to get to sleep. Maybe they've been awake for three days straight; maybe they have an important meeting to attend in the morning. But for whatever reason, no matter how hard they try or how much they toss and turn, they simply can't fall asleep.
Cue the character trying to get to sleep by counting imaginary sheep. Cartoons may show the sheep in an Imagine Spot. Those sheep may be jumping over a fence, walking into frame, or simply standing in a field; it doesn't matter. The intention is to drift off to sleep through the sheer boredom and repetition of counting them.
Because most people know (normally through personal experience) that counting sheep does not help the counter to fall asleep, this trope is rarely played straight nowadays. More often than not, it can be found:
- Deconstructed (with the character concentrating so intently on counting sheep that they forget to sleep. If interrupted, cue swearing and/or recounting)
- Parodied (flocks of non-imaginary 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 a calculator, or counting to 338,547 sheep, or setting up an animation of sheep jumping using a computer...)
Very often, 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.
- 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 fencethrough 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, the group is trying to get a large Snorlax to fall asleep so it can stop eating the grapefruits that cover seven big islands. One of the things Misty tries is a Snorlax counting routine instead of one with sheep. She only succeeds in putting herself to sleep.
James: One Mareep, two Mareep, three Mareep... *snore* ...
- In another episode, 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...
- It happens again but to only Meowth this time in the Episode N arc of Best Wishes when Team Rocket is stealing Mareep from Floccessy Ranch. This actually becomes something of a Brick Joke a few episodes later when Meowth is trying to be resilient to Dr. Colress of Team Plasma's Mind Control experiment it's shown that Meowth's technique to keep his mind focused is counting Mareep in his head.
- Happens a fourth time in XYZ, when Meowth counts Mareep to get some sleep, and ends up dreaming he's buried under a mountain of Mareep.
- 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).
- Okita counts Hijikata corpses when he wants to fall asleep. Hijikata naturally isn't amused when he finds out about this.
- Nichijou: When the Professor fails to get sleep, Sakamoto suggests she count sheep. She falls asleep after just one sheep. Nano, impressed by how much it works, tries it herself the next moment, and also falls asleep on the first sheep, except this time mid-sentence, with Sakamoto noticing that this sheep didn't even make it over the fence.
- Happens in episode seven of Gabriel DropOut with Vigne, (a demon with an F in evil), has trouble falling asleep. At first she can't remember what animal its supposed to be so she starts counting cerberi (plural of cerberus) but thinks that it's supposed to be something "cuter and fluffier" and switches to counting dream versions of her friend (and Angel) Gabriel.
- The Hitsuji de Oyasumi series of talk CDs feature an assortment of popular Japanese voice actors counting sheep to help the listener fall asleep. Not just a few sheep, either; most of the counts go up to 400 sheep. 22 albums of this and counting. Here's a Norio Wakamoto version. There's also a CD featuring the cast of Axis Powers Hetalia in character.
- One of the Archie Comics had Archie try to count sheep when he couldn't sleep, but for some reason the sheep wouldn't jump.
- 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.
- One comic produced during the Clinton administration parodied this by a character counting Veeps. One Al Gore, Two Al Gores, Three Al Gorezzz...
- Beau Peep had a strip with Beau and Dennis lying in their bunks:
Beau: What is it, Dennis?
Dennis: I can't sleep.
Beau: Well, try counting sheep or something.
Beau: What is it this time?
Dennis: I can't count.
- Mafalda does this once and Manolito in a sheep disguise enters her dreams to make publicity for his father's grocery store, much to Mafalda's disgust.
- In one Donald Duck comic strip has the titular duck doing this. However, as he had apparently just read The Lion Hunt in Africa, the sheep slowly morph into full-grown lions. Donald wakes up in fear, and the strip ends with him reading Mother Goose fairytales as a form of Brain Bleach.
- Inverted in Calvin and Hobbes when Calvin dreams that he's in a field of rocks and decides to count how many there are. He's gone well beyond a million when he ends up counting himself awake.
- In Zootopia, Nick asks if the trope applies to assistant mayor Bellwether, a sheep, shortly after she leaves the room.
Nick: Do you think when she goes to sleep, she counts herself?Judy: Oh shush.
- The Farmer in Shaun The Sheep falls sleep when he sees the flock jumping in front of his car one by one.
- From The Wizard of Oz:
Cowardly Lion: 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 Herbie Rides Again, Alonzo Hawk tries counting sheep, but during in his dream the sheep morph into evil versions of Herbie, setting the course for a very deranged nightmare.
- How to Sleep: Robert Benchley considers counting sheep as a way of getting to sleep, but says he always gets worried about the sheep clearing the fence. Sure enough, in his dream one of them bangs right into the fence.
- In Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, when a psychiatrist tries to put Lou to sleep (the whole scene is one big Comically Missing the Point), Lou starts counting.
Psychiatrist: What are you doing?Lou: I'm counting cows.Psychiatrist: COWS?Lou: I'm allergic to sheep.
- 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 Monster Girl Encyclopedia, the Weresheep has enchanted wool which makes those who come into contact with it drowsy, including the Weresheep themselves.
- In a brief Bert and Ernie sketch on Sesame Street, Ernie got bored counting sheep, so he started counting fire engines, and finally balloons. The noise of these imaginary objects wakes Bert up.
Ernie: Um... one?
Ernie: 43,891... 43,892...
- Another sketch had the Count spending the night at Bert and Ernie's apartment and being unable to sleep. When Ernie suggests counting sheep, the Count obliges...complete with his typical Evil Laugh and Dramatic Thunder accompaniment. Neither sleep, but the Count is refreshed, while Ernie... is not.
- One "Number of the Day" sketch had the Count count sheep until an elephant appears, with said elephant indicating that number (for example, if the elephant appears after five sheep, then the Number of the Day is five, for zero only the elephant appears).
- Yet another Sesame Street sketch had Little Bo Peep at a Lost and Found department, for rather obvious reasons. Once her sheep are recovered, she confesses to the clerk that she doesn't know how many she has, because she's never dared count them. The clerk offers to count them for her, and...
- In another sketch involving the Count, the Count gets up to 3,411 sheep before the sheep quit, tired of jumping for him every night. The Count calls the 24-hour Emergency Counting Service, whose worker tries to give him substitutes like holes in swiss cheese and paper clips, but the Count insists that he wants to count sheep. Eventually, the Count settles on counting the worker in a sheep costume over and over as he jumps over the bed, much to the worker's ire.
- Yet another sketch involving the Count is the song, "The Bahh Bahh" where dozens of sheep (and a few other animals) sing and dance across the Counts bed as he counts them. The Count admits that he has such a great time that he doesn't care if he falls asleep or not.
- In one of the recurring "Singing Number Guy" sketches the guy asks how many sheep will fly over him before he falls alseep. Nine sheep fly by before he does.
- While they aren't counted, the Boogie-Woogie Sheep in the Bert and Ernie "Dance Myself to Sleep" sketch are a reference to the trope.
- Mr. Bean once did this, but instead of imagining them, he uses a photograph of a field full of sheep. After continually losing count, he counts the number of rows and columns of sheep, does a quick calculation, and instantly drops off.
- In a Season One The Kids in the Hall sketch, a kid says he can't sleep and his father suggests counting sheep. The kid starts crying about all the slaughtered sheep. His father says they're live sheep. The kid says, "You didn't tell me they were alive. Dad, I was up all night tagging their toes!"
- In the Married... with Children episode "Un-Alful Entry", Al is counting hooters instead (meaning breasts, not owls).
- In Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Usagi's reaction to a talking cat plushie telling her she's The Chosen One is to say "I'm having a dream!" Then she gets into bed and starts counting sheep.
- Green Day's "Brain Stew"
I'm having trouble trying to sleep
I'm counting sheep but running out
- Counting sheep apparently does nothing for Adam Young.
- P.D.Q. Bach's "Shepherd on the Rocks, With a Twist" ends with the shepherd dozing off while trying to count his sheep.
- "Oh Lord, I Wish I Could Sleep" by The Spinners contains this chorus:
1,2,3,4 I'm just counting sheep
Oh Lord, I wish I could sleep
It's 5,6,7,8 and I'm still counting sheep
Oh Lord, I wish I could sleep
- 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 Annie Get Your Gun the "Moonshine Lullaby" number has the line "Count your sheep, Mama's singing you to sleep."
- 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 which inflicts the Sleep status.
- In Super Mario RPG, Princess Toadstool's "Sleepy Sheep" spell inflicts sleeping status onto the target by causing a sheep to fall onto them. If done right, you can cause a sheep avalanche to put all enemies to sleep.
- Animal Crossing: New Leaf introduces the Dream Suite, which allows the player to visit other towns in dreams. The character who runs the Dream Suite is a tapir named Luna, who helps the player to fall asleep by counting sheep.
If you're having trouble sleeping, Vesta will always let you count her. Sure, she's only one sheep, but you can count her over and over until it works.
- New Leaf has peppy villagers sometimes bringing up the question if the player has trouble sleeping at night, and then mentions people counting sheep jumping over a fence, which does not work for her. She then says that she has instead been counting ants jumping over a sugary food (which is selected at random), only for the ants to get stuck in a pile, and the peppy villager can't get to sleep.
- Vesta's description in Pocket Camp:
- One of the Gaddgets in Mario Party Advance is a sheep counter which displays sheep going by on the screen.
- The Animist job class in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Final Fantasy Tactics A2 has an ability called Sheep Count, which acts as an area-of-effect sleep spell. In Tactics Advance, the spell's animation shows three sheep circling above the battlefield while in Tactics A2, it shows an entire herd running across the screen.
- Count Your Sheep obviously derives its title from this trope. In the very first strip (yes, the art does get better), Katie puts herself to sleep by counting her imaginary friend, Ship the sheep. Since there's only one of him, this doesn't take long. There have been several variations on the gag over the years, including this semi-serious one.
- xkcd would like to remind you to watch out for overflow.
- Sinfest inverts this.
- Karate Bears actually count sheep in the morning for Breakfast!
- Parodied in this Fuzzy Five strip, where the young lady counts fuzzy octopus toys in place of sheep.
- In The Bird Feeder #90, "Beetles," Josh states that he counts beetles instead of sheep.
- A variation in this Cyanide & Happiness comic: an angry punk calling people "sheep" ends up putting himself to sleep.
- Insomniac Innovations◊ by Glennz — an elecronical rotary sheep counter!
- There's a game called Maths Nightmare where you have to solve math problems very fast to keep the Babaas (sheep-like petpets) jumping over the fence.
- One of the books that you can read to your neopet is called Counting Babaas. It's exactly what it sounds like.
This wonderful book gives suggestions for counting Babaas and even has Babaas on each page for you to count!
- Muppet Babies (1984):
Kermit: AAAAAAHHH!!! HE SNEEZED HIS FACE OFF!
- "Muppet Goose" had Fozzie try to count sheep, but was overwhelmed by how many sheep there were. Of course, it was all an Imagine Spot.
- In "Gonzee's Playhouse Channel", Kermit and Scooter use paper bag puppets to play the respective roles of "Kert" and "Bernie" on Sesame Seed Boulevard. When Kert can't sleep, he tries to count sheep, but Bernie finds this a bad idea, since Scooter is allergic to sheep. When the sheep jump over the beds, Scooter sneezes, causing his Bernie puppet to fly off his hand.
- In the Sheep in the Big City episode "Be Still My Bleating Heart", it is shown that one of the jobs Sheep does to make ends meet has him jumping over a fence to help insomniacs fall asleep.
- In The Penguins of Madagascar, Mort attempts to sleep while obsessed with touching King Julien's feet. He counts sheep, but those quickly turn into disembodied feet.
- Futurama, "The Day the Earth Stood Stupid", when the characters go to a pet show:
Fry: Man, that's dog's gonna be hard to beat. Look at him bring in the sheep! One sheep, two sheep ... (yawns)... three sheep... (falls asleep)
- One of the Wallace & Gromit Cracking Contraptions shorts features a device that produces sheep for Wallace to count himself to sleep. The "sheep" are really just Gromit in a sheep costume, being tossed up in front of the bed... 500 times.
- Camp Lakebottom: In the "Bloody Marty" episode, McGee is hiding from Marty who wants to make McGee fall asleep so that he can trap him in a mirror. He notices a sheep jumping over a fence, then another and then another before he realises that Marty is throwing them over.
Bloody Marty: Mind helping me count my flock?
- In Cow and Chicken, Chicken tries to do this to sleep and get over the effects of too much caffeine. He ends up counting mules carrying coffee bean bags.
- In "How to Sleep", Goofy does this unsuccessfully when it turns into a nightmare about a sheep stampede that causes him to wake up screaming.
- Ann-Margrock sings a lullaby to Pebbles about counting sheep.
- An animated short of Ruby Gloom revolves around the characters doing this. Misery's version has the sheep jumping straight into the wall, where Misery counts with "...ow."
- In the Disney cartoon, Aladdin was having a problem sleeping, so Genie tried to help him sleep by summoning mini sheep for him to count.
- Johnny Test couldn't sleep, so he had Dukey dress up as a sheep and jump over his bed.
- On Jimmy Two-Shoes, when Jimmy is trying to conquer his fear of pickles, he sleeps in bed while dreaming of pickles jumping over a fence, with a small yell between each snore.
- One episode of the cartoon Grimmy features a gang of gangster sheep. How did they rob banks? "Count Us!"
- In Drag-Along Droopy, sheepherder Droopy leads a massive flock of sheep who mow down all the vegetation in their path, riling the resident cattleman. On the eve of their face-off Droopy dozes, counting sheep hopping a fence. The sheep doze, counting Droopys hopping a fence.
- In an episode of Garfield and Friends, Bo isn't sleepy, so he decides to count people until he dozes off.
- There was also an episode where Garfield tries to count sheep, but he winds up counting Odies instead.
- Done with several tiny Strong Sads in the Homestar Runner animation "A Jorb Well Done."
- One scene in Pixar Shorts film "Day & Night" had several sheep jump inside Night's body.
- SpongeBob SquarePants
- In "Squeaky Boots", Mr. Krabs falls asleep by counting money jumping into a cash register, but keeps getting woken up by the squeaky boots he gave to SpongeBob.
- The episode "Snooze You Lose" has an insomniac Squidward taking a walk, only to see several things having to do with sleep. One thing he passes by is a television set showing a flock of sheep on the screen.
- In the Looney Tunes short "The Sour Puss," Porky and his pet cat Pussy go to sleep before embarking on a fishing trip. Porky counts sheep hopping over a fence while Pussy counts fish hopping over a fence.
- Captain Zed and the Zee Zone, which is based on the concept of a group of RAF-like pilots in a Dream World patrolling to keep kids' dreams safe, has the ground crew consist of anthropomorphic sheep as a Stealth Pun reference to this trope.
- In the Courage the Cowardly Dog episode "The Sandman Sleeps", the titular Sandman can't go to sleep, so he brings sheep over to jump in front of him. But some get bored already and pass the time by either arm wrestling or playing poker, and one even yells at him "Just go to sleep already!"
- The Bozo the Clown cartoon "Sheep Thief Grief" has Bozo tending his uncle's sheep flock. He does a spot check, counting them off, and proceeds to start getting sleepy.
- Codename: Kids Next Door features Numbuh Five singing a lullaby about counting sheep in the episode "Operation: D.I.A.P.E.R."
- Employed a few times in Jackie Chan Adventures:
- One time, Jackie fell asleep while looking at the Sheep Talisman.
- Another time, when Uncle couldn't sleep because he was focused on preventing Shendu's demon brethren from returning, Jackie asks if he's tried counting sheep, to which Uncle replies "Demons always eat them".
- In "Sleep No More", due to nervousness over a pizza eating contest, Buster can't get to sleep so Arthur recommends he count sheep. It works at first until a thought train leads Buster into thinking of pizza and then a pizza eating contest.
- In the prologue to "Buenos Noches, Vicita", Arthur tells the viewers that everyone has a different method of falling asleep. In Muffy's example, she calls her butler, Bailey, to count sheep for her. She falls asleep shortly after he starts counting.
- Parodied in the French series Avez-vous déjà vu... ?, where a conversation between two sheep listing the friends and family members who'll attend a picnic ends with the two of them falling fast asleep.
- In the Mickey Mouse (2013) episode "Fire Escape", an already-asleep tenant's dream of sheep jumping over a fence is disturbed when Mickey comes and warns him about a fire, causing the sheep in the dream bubble to freak out and run away.
- In Dexter's Laboratory, the Justice Friends episode "Things That Go Bonk in the Night" had Krunk count sheep to go to sleep. He's out like a light after only counting one sheep.
- The Bonkers episode "Do Toons Dream of Animated Sheep?" had Bonkers D. Bobcat count sheep, only for one of them to steal his dreams out of disappointment that her own dreams never come true.
- Parodied on Kaeloo, in an episode where Stumpy is in a math lesson and wants to prove how good he is at math:
Stumpy: One sheep, two sheep, three sheep, four sheep...
Stumpy falls asleep.
- In "Sleepover At Gilroy's" from Llama Llama, Euclid wakes up Llama Llama due to his sneezing from allergies. He tells Llama that his family counts sheep to fall asleep. So Llama Llama counts him and falls asleep at a count of four.
- The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: In the episode "Rock-a-Bye Pooh Bear", when Piglet is afraid to go to sleep, Pooh, Rabbit and Tigger try this on him by having Tigger bounce around dressed as a sheep. In the end, Tigger gets tired before Piglet does.