Preliminary Results of a Study Comparing The Cognitive Shuffle with Backward Counting (Like “Counting Sheep”)

Researchers at the University of Montreal will present a paper in Montreal comparing the cognitive shuffle with backward counting. This research was undertaken for several reasons, one of which is that insomnia research has to date assessed surprisingly few deliberate mentation strategies. For example, old techniques such as reading, listening to the radio, and the familiar backward counting technique (“counting sheep”) have had practically no experimental attention. And yet the sleep community does occasionally express opinions on these techniques, extrapolating from other findings and vague theories.

The abstract was written in the French language with the following title:

Effets de l’utilisation d’une application mobile d’imagerie mentale diversifiée sur la qualité subjective du sommeil : résultats préliminaires

This translates as:

Effects of a mobile app that assists both serial diverse imagining (the cognitive shuffle) and backward counting on subjective sleep quality.

So far it seems that the cognitive shuffle group, compared to the backward counting group

  • had greater decrease in insomnia severity index (with both groups showing an improvement over baseline)
  • had lower sleep onset latency (with backward counting not helping)

In other words:

  • the cognitive shuffle group had a significantly greater decrease in insomnia severity index compared to the controls.
  • the cognitive shuffle group had significantly lower perceived sleep-onset latency than the controls. ( Perceived sleep onset latency is the amount of time the participant estimates it took them to fall asleep.)

Some limitations of this report:

  1. These are merely preliminary results only.
  2. Reports were subjective: participants were not in a sleep lab, they slept in natural conditions (which of course has advantages and disadvantages for sleep research)

This study provides a stronger control condition than simply counting sheep, in that the app had a backward counting pack, used in the control condition. This we felt would provide much better distraction to our participants than unaided counting sheep. Why? Because if participants’ minds wandered back to their concerns, then the app playing the next number might bring them back to the counting task. This is relevant because insomnia researchers tend to suppose that distraction facilitates sleep onset in psychologically-based insomnia. That potency, in turn, is ethically important because when one does a study with people who have a concern (in this case sleep difficulties), one wants to make sure that even the control group is provided with a potentially helpful treatment. Such a control condition is known as an active control.

The abstract is available here.

While mySleepButton helps users apply the new cognitive shuffle technique, we at CogSci Apps are focused on helping people sleep in the way that is best suited to them. That’s why we continue to fund and conduct research to adapt mySleepButton. CogSci Apps Corp. can and will adapt mySleepButton to match pertinent new research knowledge. In fact, we recently added an innovative pack that applies mindfulness and acceptance and commitment research. We continue to investigate several possible enhancements to mySleepButton and look forward to making further announcements later this year.

Nevertheless the cognitive shuffle has a strong theoretical rationale; it is designed to be an enhancement of previously corroborated techniques and principles; we are impressed by the feedback we have received ever since we began to investigate the technique (which is why the app was developed in the first place); and the new body of public evidence it has generated so far looks positive.


  • Selham, Z., Guloy, S., Massicotte-Marquez, J., Beaudoin, L., Carrier, J. (2017) Effets de l’utilisation d’une application mobile d’imagerie mentale diversifiée sur la qualité subjective du sommeil : résultats préliminaires. (Effects of a serial diverse imagining mobile app on subjective sleep quality: preliminary results.) Research to be presented at UQAM conference in March 2017. Abstract available from

CogSci Apps Corp. provided a modest amount of funding for this research. Luc P. Beaudoin is a director of CogSci Apps Corp and president of CogZest..

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