Being able to relax and drift off to sleep is a skill we can teach ourselves through self-hypnosis.
Sleep disturbances can feel unbearable at times, leading to endless tossing and turning. And it’s an affliction experienced by many.
Up to 30% of adults have reported they receive less than seven hours of sleep a night, which is the gold standard for adults under 60. If you’re over 60, seven to nine hours is recommended. Around 70% of high school students shared they’re not getting enough shuteye either.
But with practice, applying self-hypnosis techniques can help you change your disturbed sleep patterns for good.
Why can’t I sleep?
There could be many reasons why you aren’t getting consistent, quality sleep, and the consequences of reduced sleep can vary.
Common sleep disorder experiences include:
- having difficulty falling asleep
- having trouble staying asleep
- regular nightmares or night terrors
- excessive daytime sleepiness
- increased movement during sleep.
Experts define insomnia as difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep. Acute insomnia, or short-term insomnia, might last for only a few nights. On the other hand, chronic insomnia means that your sleep is disrupted for at least three nights per week, for three months.
Various physical and mental health issues can contribute to disordered sleep, such as different pain syndromes or neurological conditions.
If you don’t have a known health concern impacting your sleep, you may be experiencing what’s known as primary insomnia. Whereas if you know your sleep disturbance is a symptom of a larger health issue, it’s referred to as secondary insomnia.
Sometimes it’s just life aggravating your sleep, rather than a diagnosed health condition, such as if you’re experiencing stress, have a poor work-life balance, are a shift worker, or going through difficult relationship problems.
Are drugs my best option for better sleep?
People who experience sleep disturbances usually begin by self-treating with over-the-counter medications and natural supplements, such as melatonin, valerian, and tryptophan.
If you turn to a healthcare practitioner for advice, it’s possible a doctor will treat your sleep disorder with a pharmacological intervention. However, sleep medications, known as sedative-hypnotic drugs or sleeping pills, are not without risk.
Long-term use of such medications can result in a growing dependency, daytime drowsiness, nausea, fatigue, confusion, and memory problems.
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Develop good sleep hygiene
Good sleep hygiene can be as important as physical hygiene—don’t underestimate it.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says your behavior, especially before bedtime, can have a major impact on your sleep. Your routine before lights out can either promote healthy sleep or contribute to a long night of restlessness followed by a difficult morning.
To improve your sleep quality, first try improving your sleep hygiene by:
- maintaining a consistent sleep and wake schedule
- devising a relaxing bedtime ritual
- reducing afternoon naps
- exercising regularly
- avoiding bright lights
- switching off your TV or electronic device before going to bed
- winding down before bedtime with an activity you find calming, such as reading (a book—not your Kindle) or listening to soft, relaxing music
- avoiding heavy, filling meals right before bed
- avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and cigarettes just before you turn the lights out.
These measures are simple and easy to implement. However, you might require a more comprehensive approach if these sleep hygiene tips aren’t helping. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be very effective in treating sleep disorders, particularly when it’s combined with hypnosis.
Hypnosis and sleep
During hypnosis you experience a state of deep relaxation, focused attention, and increased suggestibility. By this we mean you become more receptive to ideas—it’s not a form of mind control. Instead, it’s a researched-back tool that can help reduce your arousal and promote relaxation.
If you’ve been experiencing insomnia, hypnosis can be used to help you relax, fall asleep, and stay asleep. It can be thought of as a more powerful guided meditation, carefully designed for improving sleep.
As a technique, hypnosis for sleep is an appealing option for people who suffer from sleep disorders as it’s cost-effective, safe, and easy to put into practice.
The science behind sleep hypnosis
Treating sleep difficulties with hypnosis has been well researched, and the evidence base about the benefits of incorporating self-hypnosis into your nighttime routine is growing.
A comprehensive study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine examining results from 24 different research papers reported that more than half (58.3%) of the included studies found evidence that hypnosis could benefit sleep.
The research also highlighted that there was a low incidence of adverse events when hypnosis is used as a tool for treating sleep disorders.
Other scientific studies have found that improving sleep through hypnosis is a secondary outcome. For example, one study focused on reducing pain by hypnosis found that participants not only reported less pain, but their sleep improved at the same time too.
Health conditions that benefit from self-hypnosis for sleep
Hypnosis can help with insomnia (either primary or secondary), as well as a whole range of health concerns like cancer or problematic menopause symptoms. This is because sleep disturbances and a whole host of health conditions can go hand in hand.
Researchers from around the world have already studied the benefits of sleep hypnosis for:
- multiple sclerosis patients with sleeping difficulties
- chronic fatigue syndrome patients with sleep disturbances
- cancer patients
- menopausal hot flashes
- people with sleep bruxism (teeth grinding)
- people experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that led to sleep disturbances
- fibromyalgia patients with sleeping difficulties
- people with lower back problems
- post-menopausal women
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Self-hypnosis techniques for sleep
The ability to focus yourself at will is an invaluable skill and it’s the foundation for sleep self-hypnosis.
However, keep in mind that The Sleep Foundation in the US says self-hypnosis is about changing your negative thoughts about sleep or your poor sleep habits, rather than putting you to sleep during the process. Instead, the idea is that you will sleep better once the self-hypnosis is complete.
Here’s how to self-hypnotize for improved sleep.
- Find a comfortable place where you can relax.
This can be in bed just before you'd ideally like to fall sleep, or wherever works best for you.
- Relax using a hypnotic induction.
Begin by focusing on your breath. Then, initiate a progressive muscle relaxation by visualizing tension dissolving or evaporating away for your body, or slowly tense and relax each muscle group. Start by focusing your attention on your head, shoulders and neck, move down to your back, arms, stomach and chest, then legs and feet. You should begin feeling a deep and pleasant sense of relaxation.
- Introduce a suggestion.
Think of simple but clear statements about what you can do differently for better sleep. In a focused state of hypnosis you will be able to pay deeper attention to these suggestions. It can be what you might do differently, such as ‘I will turn my devices off an hour before bed’. Or alternatively, focus on reacting differently to challenging situations, such as ‘I won’t panic if I wake up before my alarm. I will fall asleep again’. Just keep it simple. Alternatively, practice repeating an affirmation, like ‘I will sleep throughout the night and not wake up’, or ‘Tonight I will fall asleep easily and quickly’. These are all post-hypnotic suggestions, which means they’ll take effect after your self-hypnosis session has finished, helping you achieve better sleep.
- Return to your usual level of alertness.
Become more alert and aware by counting to five while telling yourself you are becoming aware of your surroundings again. You can skip this step if you're trying self-hypnosis right before bedtime.
To target insomnia specifically, different hypnosis approaches can be used, such as visualizing the metaphor of a fish swimming deeper and deeper in the ocean for quality, deep sleep. You could also try an age-regression technique like focusing on your earlier memories of when restorative sleep came easily to you.
Practicing self-hypnosis is essential to see results. If you need more direction, try online recordings or digital health apps that guide you through a hypnosis program.
While a self-hypnosis program offered via the Nerva app is designed to support people with IBS and the Evia hypnosis app is for women experiencing menopause, clinical trials have shown that both can lead to improved sleep quality as a secondary benefit of completing the sessions.
The Wrap Up
If you experience prolonged sleep issues, consult with a healthcare provider to ensure you don’t have an underlying health condition contributing to your poor sleep. Self-hypnosis can be used as a tool to help with a range of sleep disturbances, including an inability to fall asleep, difficulties waking up, insomnia, and persistent nightmares or night terrors. It can help you change your behaviours and patterns around sleep. Remember, it takes practice to feel the benefits of self-hypnosis for better sleep, so be consistent with your efforts.