Sleep disorders are an increasingly rising problem in the modern world. Millions of Americans have to deal with sleep-related issues, and the numbers just keep growing. People suffer from different types of sleeping issues and try to find relief or treatment from a variety of medications or other sleep-inducing methods. One of those methods includes hypnosis or hypnotherapy. Hypnosis is one of the natural treatments for sleep disorders, however, isn’t thoroughly studied yet. Nonetheless, the existing research has shown that hypnotherapy provides positive effects on sleep with some patients and suffering individuals with minimal to no negative effects. The efficacy of hypnosis in clinical trials is similar to that achieved through autogenic relaxation training and guided imagery.
The number of people relying on hypnosis for sleep is also on the rise. Probably because hypnosis represents a natural state that one can achieve with the help of a hypnotherapist. Sleep medication is pretty invasive as a treatment and frequently causes dependency. Also, researchers report that individuals who take sleeping pills have a higher risk of death from all causes, making sleeping pills a substandard choice.
On the other hand, hypnosis does sound completely non-medical, probably based on loose evidence and unverified stories. And sure, there will always be someone skeptical about its effects. However, when people are hanging on a thin string, looking for any possible way to fall asleep, hypnosis sounds like an excellent choice.
Because there are so many false perceptions and information circulating on the Internet (such as you can retrieve lost memories or not wake up from hypnosis), we have decided to take a closer look at sleep hypnosis. In the following paragraphs, we will try to explain what sleep hypnosis is, how it can be achieved and what are some of its positive effects. Bear in mind, however, that researchers investigating the benefits of sleep hypnosis as a sleep aid have only reported initial findings and suggest additional research before they make any final conclusions.
What is Sleep Hypnosis?
Hypnosis, in general, is known as a technique used in psychotherapy. The goal of hypnosis is to affect cognitive behavior, as well as treat certain unhealthy habits or disorders. Hypnosis or hypnotherapy is oftentimes used as a treatment of substance abuse disorders, like smoking or drug addiction, behavioral disorders, weight loss, as well as chronic pain. According to the American Medical and Psychiatric Association, a hypnosis session is supposed to let the hypnotherapist help you raise self-awareness regarding the certain behavioral or habitual issues. This way, the hypnotherapist induces the healing process and helps to reframe the subconscious mind. In a nutshell, hypnotherapy revolves around guided thinking for the sake of leading a person into a trance-like state of complete relaxation so they can heal.
However, sleep hypnosis is a bit different than the standard hypnosis definition. It is considered to be a self-hypnosis method, meaning that you learn to put yourself under hypnosis. At first, sleep hypnosis is assisted by a professional, who teaches the subject all about the ‘induction of hypnotic state’. This is the state of hypnosis-induced relaxation, which is supposed to help you fall asleep. During the hypnotic state, the hypnotherapist is communicating with you, suggesting changes in your behavior and thoughts. A hypnotherapist may use words and expressions like ‘relax’, ‘deep breaths’, ‘let go’, and ‘easy’ to encourage hypnosis. There is a special focus on symptom control, guided imagery, as well as achieving the trance-like state. It is believed that this enables the healing process, on a both, psychological and physical level. Later on, the subject continues to practice hypnosis in the comfort of their bedroom. By experiencing the methods and steps during a hypnotherapy session, the subject learns to induce sleep through auto-hypnosis.
Achieving Sleep Hypnosis
Generally, sleep hypnosis allows the person to fall asleep. As mentioned before, sleeping is subconscious, as the hypnotherapist ensures that you’re subconsciously aware. During the hypnotic state, the conscious brain activity decreases, while the subconscious levels increase. This is usually a state of a restorative, deep sleep, from which the main purpose of sleep hypnosis can be achieved. To be clearer and more specific, here is what sleep hypnosis, or hypnotherapy usually involves;
When performed by a hypnotherapist
- Settling down – This is the very first step of sleep hypnosis. The patient, or recipient, lays down and tries to get as comfortable as possible.
- Following instructions – This is the part when the hypnotherapist establishes an authoritative position, gives instructions and starts guiding the recipient via sentences like; As you follow the sound of my voice, you will take a deep breath and relax . . .
- Letting go – The purpose of this step is for the recipient to try and break the connection to the conscious world. The hypnotherapist guides the recipient to a subconscious place associated with positive emotions.
- Guided or suggestive visualization/imagery – Once the recipient has found a special place in their subconsciousness where they feel relaxed, the hypnotherapist suggests certain imagery via sentences like, Relax and feel the sunshine on your skin. Let your mind wander the meadows as your hair blows in the wind . . . The therapist’s voice is usually steady, soft, calming, and in sync with the imagery they’re helping the recipient paint.
- Breathing and relaxation – This step follows through the whole session. The hypnotherapist constantly reminds the recipient of conscious breathing, which helps the person slow down their heart rate and lower blood pressure. Furthermore, this allows the muscles to relax and the body to feel almost weightless. Eventually, the recipient is subconsciously asleep, and finally associating sleep with a positive, endearing and happy place, state, feeling, or even a memory.
Once the recipient has entered the hypnotic state, the therapist tries to deepen the experience by guiding the recipient through cataleptic and somnambulistic hypnosis. Cataleptic hypnosis is deep hypnosis, usually described as involving side-to-side eye movement. Somnambulistic hypnosis, on the other hand, is the deepest state one can enter, characterized by the eyes rolling up movement. At this point, both mind and body are completely still, relaxed and almost ‘weightless’. The breathing is slow, the heart rate decreased, and the recipient is in a sleep-like state, or more precisely, in a deep hypnotic state.
When the subject of sleep hypnosis wakes up or emerges from hypnosis, they don’t remember much of what was communicated during the hypnosis induction. However, they do draw certain parallels in the emotions and feelings the hypnosis may have left behind. The thought process, especially, remains intact, usually because sleep hypnosis is also characterized by vivid dreams. Sometimes, when the subject has suffered sleep deprivation, or insomnia, for a longer period, they are left alone in the hypnotic states. The purpose of this step is to let the subject actually pass into the natural sleep cycle.
When trying out self-hypnosis
When hypnosis is induced by someone else, it is referred to as hetero hypnosis. This includes hypnosis induced via the use of a CD. Self-hypnosis is when you hypnotize yourself. Hetero hypnosis is a useful way to begin learning self-hypnosis before the subject is able to enter the hypnotic state on their own. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s see what self-hypnosis usually involves:
- Peace and quiet – the very first step of self-hypnosis involves finding peace and quiet. The best place would be the bedroom, preferably dimmed, with closed doors. This way, a person will be able to enter their comfort zone and gradually enter the hypnotic state without interruption.
- Mental determination – sitting alone in a room for some time can be extremely hard, especially if you’re trying to induce hypnosis for the sake of long-term natural sleep. Therefore, it is important to create a mental determination for the success of the sleep hypnosis session. This can be done by silent repetition of ‘I can do this’, by a complete clearing of the mind, or by having calming music in the background. There are also many CDs, YouTube videos, and Apps for your smart phone that provide guided hypnosis.
- Relaxation and breathing – at this point, it is important to focus on getting comfortable, relaxed and breathing properly. A person should breath slowly, focusing on every breath. The breathing in should be through the nose and breathing out through the mouth. By focusing on breathing and providing self-suggestions, a person should be able to slowly but surely drifting into hypnosis.
- Visualization and imagery – this is the ‘make it or break it’ point; as mentioned before, visualization and imagery is the way to go deep into hypnosis. The physical world is no longer one’s concern, but rather some other, subconscious, happy, and peaceful place. The tranquilization is at this point at its highest and usually leads to deeper hypnosis or natural sleep.
Therapeutic Effects of Sleep Hypnosis
There are many sleep disorders hypnosis seems to help with, but let’s take insomnia as an example for this segment. Insomnia is a sleeping disorder that affects the central nervous system function and can cause depression, anxiety, behavior and lifestyle changes. Some recipients of sleep hypnosis effectively achieve a natural sleep cycle.
Because insomnia causes complex triggers in the motor function of the central nervous system, hypnosis seems to simplify it. Hypnotherapy basically lowers the activity of this triggering mechanism, making the recipient less aware of the sensory aspects they are about to experience during the hypnotic state. This enables hypnotic induction to actually promote an exceptionally positive therapeutic effect, which includes:
- Sleep-induction – the relaxing effects of hypnosis can induce sleep. Although existing studies are limited, one study using seventy subjects showed an 81% increase in healthy slow wave sleep and a 67% decrease in time awake during a 90 minute nap period. Participants with a low level of suggestible did not experience the benefits during the study. The reason(s) hypnosis is effective are not yet known but given the low risk of adverse side effects and frequent positive side effects, it is recommended as a first line treatment for an increasing number of chronic problems.
- Learning and perception changes – hypnosis allows the subject to learn during the hypnotic state; the subject establishes new connections between real-life information, which, in turn, can change their perspective.
- Behavioral changes – hypnosis is effective in helping the subject change harmful behaviors; the previous patterns of behavior are rewired, allowing new, positive habits to be adopted by the subject.
- Stress reduction – as a form of psychotherapy, sleep hypnosis, or hypnosis, in general, is extremely effective in stress reduction.
But, does it really work?
The reason some people are skeptical when it comes to sleep hypnosis is completely justified. The sleep hypnosis techniques have not been regarded as universally accepted in psychology and behavior studies. Mostly because there are speculations in regards to whether hypnosis is truly able to address the psychological and behavioral factors that cause sleep disorders in the first place. Hypnosis seems to be effective with some people, and with others not so much. Many would explain the issue by pointing out the ‘suggestibility’ of a sleep hypnosis subject.
This means that the more ‘suggestible’ the subject is during the session, the more likely that they will experience therapeutic effects. So, the more you want to believe that hypnosis will work, the better it will actually work. This might be a rather controversial view on sleep hypnosis, as it seems to be more psychologically tricky than effective.
But, therapists are globally using hypnosis to treat cognitive-behavioral disorders, as well as sleep-disorders, on the very premise that hypnosis is a self or auto-induced process. Therapists provide guidance and self-hypnosis training. In this regard, hypnosis acts much like the Placebo and Nocebo Effects as far as suggestibility. We simply don’t know all the factors involved yet.
Other Hypnotic and Non-Hypnotic Techniques
If you don’t particularly fancy the described sleep hypnosis methods and effects, luckily, there are many more. Both hypnotic and non-hypnotic techniques can be used to deal with sleep deprivation, insomnia, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders.
- Memory triggering– a technique where the subject is able to relive a certain memory as a way to fall asleep.
- Creating future memories – this is a post-hypnotic technique where the subject creates future memories of sleeping; there needs to be a trigger for future memory, which is usually the bed.
- Sleep Phenomena – using hypnosis to train the subject to breathe and approach sleep consciously.
- Sleep hygiene and sleep routine – for a good night’s sleep, it is important to establish good sleep hygiene as well as routine. Sleep hygiene involves having comfortable bedding, mattresses, and pillows. A good sleeping routine involves going to bed at the same time every night, for example.
- No technology and electronics – it’s essential not to bring any gadgets to bed, like phones or computers, or watch them while you are in bed, like television. Some people claim that watching videos on phones, or a movie on TV has helped them fall asleep. However, even if they did fall asleep, they probably woke up soon. The light from these objects doesn’t allow the creation of melatonin, so they promote wakefulness and anxiety.
- No caffeine or alcohol before bedtime – it is important not to consume caffeinated or alcoholic beverages. They promote wakefulness, dehydration, reduction of REM sleep, dysfunctional sleep-wake cycles, anxiety, etc. One should drink herbal or blend teas before bedtime, as they promote calmness and relaxation.
- Turn the lights off before bedtime – it is essential to turn all the lights off. Light reduces production of melatonin, the darkness hormone, as well as serotonin. Sleeping in a lit room can promote restlessness, wakefulness, and sleep anxiety.
Regardless of whether you trust the therapeutic effects of sleep hypnosis or not, it is important not to disregard this sleep-inducing technique completely. We may be divided as to whether sleep hypnosis works or not, but the fact is that it is helping many people fall asleep. In the world of harmful sleep medication, hypnosis therapy might not sound bad at all, especially because it is based on achieving natural sleep with no drugs.
If you suffer from a sleeping disorder, make sure to consult your doctor or medical professional about sleep hypnosis. Hopefully, this article has inspired a new idea on how to combat sleep deprivation and helped people to finally fall asleep.