Sleep is an activity that takes up a third of our lives. We know that it is essential for the normal function of various body systems, including memory consolidation, hormone release and brain energy restoration. Lack of sleep can be the cause of different physical and mental health conditions. Studies show that people with chronic sleep disorders have a build-up of a specific protein, called beta-amyloid, in their brain. The protein attacks the brain’s long-term memory and has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease (1).
Poor sleep can also have other grave consequences, such as diminished motivation, alertness, and safety. For instance, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, drowsy drivers may cause 5,000 to 6,000 fatal crashes each year in the US alone (2). It is, therefore, vital for your health and well-being – as well as that of others – to work on your sleep patterns and quality of sleep.
I Can’t Sleep
- cannot sleep,
- will not sleep,
- have difficulty falling asleep,
- have trouble staying asleep,
- have regular nightmares or night terrors,
- have excessive daytime sleepiness, and
- those with increased movements during sleep.
The above list is not exhaustive. In short, experts define insomnia as difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep. Acute insomnia or short-term insomnia can last for only a few nights. Chronic insomnia, on the other hand, means that your sleep is disrupted for at least three nights per week, for three months (5).
Both physical and mental health issues can contribute to disordered sleep; for instance, different pain syndromes, neurological conditions, disruptions in neurotransmitters (6). Life circumstances, too, can aggravate the situation; for example, stress, poor work-life balance, shift work, relationship problems. When there are no health concerns linked to your sleeping problems, we refer to the condition as primary insomnia. In contrast, secondary insomnia is when sleep disturbances occur as a result or symptom of other health issues.
What Can I Do If I Can’t Sleep?
People who experience sleep disturbance usually self-treat with over-the-counter medications and natural supplements, such as melatonin, valerian, and tryptophan. Some also turn to health care practitioners, most often physicians and psychiatrists. Medical doctors commonly treat sleep disorders using pharmacological interventions. However, sleep medications, known as sedative-hypnotic drugs or sleeping pills, are not without risk. Long-term use of such drugs can result in dependency, daytime drowsiness, nausea, fatigue, confusion, and memory problems. Because of the side effects, many people prefer non-pharmacological treatments, which can include meditation, hypnosis, and sleep hygiene programs (7).
If you want to improve your sleep quality, the National Sleep Foundation recommends you first try the following (8):
- Maintain consistent sleep and wake schedules.
- Have a relaxing bedtime ritual.
- Reduce afternoon naps.
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid bright light and TV/computer use before going to bed.
- Wind down before going to bed, doing an activity you find calming (e.g., reading, listening to soft, relaxing music).
- Avoid food intake in the evening, especially heavy meals.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes before bed.
However, if those simple measures don’t suffice, you might require a more comprehensive approach with the help of a skilled sleep professional. According to scientific literature, cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT can be very effective in treating sleep disorders, particularly when used together with hypnosis (9).
Next, we will explore all you need to know about hypnosis for sleep, including what it is, how and when it works and how you can start doing it.
What Is Hypnosis for Sleep?
Hypnosis is a state during which you experience deep relaxation, focused attention and increased suggestibility. It is a tool of hypnotherapy – a natural, research-supported treatment that can reduce arousal and promote relaxation. In the context of insomnia, hypnosis can be used as a way to help you relax and to encourage the onset of sleep and longer sleeping hours, helping you to sleep better. Verbal cues and guided imagery are usually used to draw you into a trance-like state, during which you experience deep relaxation and drift off to a more restful sleep. It can be thought of as a more powerful guided meditation, designed for improving sleep.
What Does Science Say About Hypnosis for Sleep?
Treating sleep difficulties with hypnosis has been relatively well researched, in adults and children (10). The evidence base behind this approach is growing. The technique is attractive to both clinicians and patients due to its cost-effectiveness, brevity and safety.
A systematic literature review published in 2018 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine evaluated the available evidence for hypnosis for sleep improvement (11). Dr Irina Chamine and her co-authors from the Department of Neurology at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon identified 139 peer-reviewed articles on the topic. Twenty-four papers were included in their final analysis. The team found that, overall, more than a half (58.3 %) of the included studies reported hypnosis benefit on sleep outcomes, just over 12% reported mixed results, and less than a third (29.2%) reported no hypnosis benefit. The authors concluded that hypnosis for sleep problems is a promising treatment. They also highlighted that the available evidence suggests low incidence of adverse events. Further investigation is required to include larger samples and improve the methodological quality of studies in this field.
Some of the scientific studies on hypnosis also considered sleep improvement to be a secondary outcome. For example, one study focused on pain reduction as an outcome of hypnotherapy. Simultaneously, the participants also experienced an improvement in sleep (12). All in all, the pool of evidence for hypnosis for sleep is quite significant.
Conditions That Can Benefit from Sleep Hypnosis
Hypnosis can be applied to various cases of insomnia, either of primary or secondary origin, ranging from stress-related sleep problems to cancers.
Many health conditions are accompanied by sleep disturbances and can benefit from sleep hypnosis. As already mentioned, hypnosis is often used as an adjunct to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT); however, it can also be used solo. Researchers from around the world have already studied the benefits of sleep hypnosis in different populations, including:
- multiple sclerosis patients with sleeping difficulties (13),
- chronic fatigue syndrome patients with sleep disturbances (14),
- cancer patients (15),
- people with sleep bruxism (grinding of the teeth) (16),
- people experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that led to sleep disturbances (17),
- fibromyalgia patients with sleeping difficulties (18),
- patients with low back problems (19),
- post-menopausal women (20).
How to Do Hypnosis for Sleep?
Hypnosis intervention procedures are usually very flexible and should be customized and adapted to an individual client. Some of the available options, which have shown to be effective, include:
- a combination of hypnosis with another intervention (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive processing therapy, sleep hygiene),
- face-to-face individual sessions with a hypnotherapist,
- group hypnosis sessions.
To target insomnia, different hypnosis approaches can be used; for example (11):
- a metaphor of a fish going deeper into the water for deeper sleep,
- the age-regression technique, which prompts you to focus on your earlier memories of periods when restorative sleep came easily,
- directions for relaxation with visualizations (e.g., relaxing scenes and sounds),
- ego-strengthening suggestions.
A good thing with hypnosis for sleep is that successful interventions can be relatively short. In the previously mentioned review led by Dr Chamine, it has been found that, on average, 3 to 4 sessions may be sufficient to obtain benefits for sleep outcomes.
Home practice is usually encouraged with all types of sessions. For those, you can use audio recordings, online resources and different digital health applications. In recent years, online apps, such as Mindset, Sleepio and Pzizz, have become a powerful tool for self-hypnosis. The insomnia apps, available for both iOS and Android platforms, have made hypnotherapy for sleep more accessible and available to the public. Good quality sleep now really is at your fingertips.
It’s Also Important How You Wake Up
Research shows that not only it’s essential you have a restful sleep, but you also need to wake up at the right time. Advanced neuroscience is being merged with digital technology to help us activate our hidden potentials by applying the principles of personal neurotechnology. For example, some sleep trackers (e.g., Rhythm’s Dreem) now include a feature of a smart alarm clock that wakes you up at a time that is optimal for you.
When the user sets the alarm, the device’s monitoring mechanisms ensure he or she is woken during an appropriate stage of their sleep, avoiding grogginess and tiredness that can be a direct result of being suddenly aroused during deep sleep. Smart technology is making a breakthrough in this field and many people are embracing the novel solutions to their sleeping problems.
A Word from Mindset Health
If you experience prolonged sleep issues, you should first consult your medical provider to make sure there is no underlying health condition causing your insomnia. Sleep problems can be a precursor to many health issues, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. Therefore, they should be treated promptly, using effective and safe therapeutic approaches. Hypnotherapy is a flexible approach that addresses sleep disturbances at various levels. It can be tailored to the individual, using a big toolbox of techniques. Although it is often provided by a clinician trained in hypnotherapy, self-hypnosis – without the presence of a clinician – is also very successful in promoting behaviour change and can help you restore your health and find better sleep.