Jack Harley, Therapeutic Neuroscience at Oxford University
reviewed by Dr Michael Yapko
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
Jack Harley, Therapeutic Neuroscience at Oxford University
Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Self Hypnosis for Sleep: What it is & how to do it


Can self hypnosis help you sleep better? Being able to relax and drift to sleep is a skill that we can teach ourselves through self-hypnosis and can not only help you get to sleep in the moment but change how you sleep long term. This article explains how to perform self-hypnosis for sleep and describes some of the benefits of this technique.

I can’t sleep

Did you know that up to 30% of adults report that they receive less than seven hours of sleep a night?  And that around 70% of high school students don’t get enough sleep? People with sleep disorders include those who:

  • 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.

Both physical and mental health issues can contribute to disordered sleep. For instance, different pain syndromes, neurological conditions, disruptions in neurotransmitters .  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, you may be experiencing primary insomnia. If your sleep diturbance is a symptom of other health concerns, it is called secondary insomnia.

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, hypnotherapy, and sleep hygiene programs.

If you want to improve your sleep quality, the National Sleep Foundation recommends you first try improving your sleep hygiene by:

  1. Maintaining consistent sleep and wake schedules.
  2. Having a relaxing bedtime ritual.
  3. Reducing afternoon naps.
  4. Exercising regularly.
  5. Avoiding bright light and TV/computer use before going to bed.
  6. Winding down before going to bed, doing an activity you find calming (e.g., reading, listening to soft, relaxing music).
  7. Avoiding food intake in the evening, especially heavy meals.
  8. Avoiding 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.

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.

Calm your IBS in just 6 weeks with Nerva

Start Now
Self-guided gut hypnotherapy
Developed by doctors
89% of users report improved gut symptoms

Take control of how you think, feel & act with Mindset

Try for free
Self-guided hypnosis app
Developed by world-experts
Courses on anxiety, negative thinking, achieving goals & more

Self-manage menopause & hot flashes naturally

Learn more
Evidence-based hypnotherapy
Menopause education
Symptom tracking & more!

Hypnotizing yourself to 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. It can be thought of as a more powerful guided meditation, designed for improving sleep.

Science behind sleep hypnosis

Treating sleep difficulties with hypnosis has been relatively well researched, in adults and children. 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. 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. The participants not only felt relief from their pain but also reported an improvement in sleep. 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
  • chronic fatigue syndrome patients with sleep disturbances
  • cancer patients
  • menopausal hot flashes
  • people with sleep bruxism (grinding of the teeth)
  • people experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that led to sleep disturbances
  • fibromyalgia patients with sleeping difficulties
  • patients with low back problems
  • post-menopausal women
  • irritable bowel syndrome.

How to do self-hypnosis for sleep

The ability to focus yourself at will is an invaluable skill to have and is the foundation for sleep self-hypnosis. Some of the available options, which have shown to be effective, include:

  1. Find a comfortable place where you can relax. This can be in your bed, just before you'd like to sleep or wherever works best for you.
  2. Relax using a hypnotic induction. Focus on your breath or progressively focus and release tension in each muscle in your body, from your head to your toes.
  3. Introduce a suggestion. This can be saying simple but clear statements you offer yourself about what you might do differently, or visualizations of sheep jumping over a fence.
  4. Return to your usual level of alertness. Become more alert & aware by counting to five while telling yourself you are becoming aware of your surroundings. If you're trying self-hypnosis just before bed, you can skip this step.

To target insomnia, different hypnosis approaches can be used; for example:

  • 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.

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, have become a powerful tool for sleep self-hypnosis. The insomnia apps 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.

The Wrap Up

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.

Self-hypnosis app for sleep, anxiety & depression

Try the Mindset app
Self-guided hypnosis app
Developed by world-experts
Courses on anxiety, negative thinking, achieving goals & more

Calm your IBS in just 6 weeks with Nerva

Start Now
Self-guided gut hypnotherapy
Developed by doctors
89% of users report improved gut symptoms

Manage hot flashes naturally, at home

Learn more
Evidence-based hypnotherapy
Menopause education
Symptom tracking & more!

Our Sources

Mindset Health only uses high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed research, to support our articles. We work with experts to ensure our content is helpful, accurate and trustworthy.

3.    Morin C.M., Benca, R. 2012. Chronic insomnia. Lancet, 379(9821):1129–1141. Link

4.    Mcknight-Eily, L. R., Eaton, D.K., Lowry, R., Croft, J. B., Presley-Cantrell, L., & Perry, G. S. 2011. Relationships between hours of sleep and health-risk behaviors in US adolescent students. PreventiveMedicine, 53: 271-273. Link

5.    Ramar, K., & Olsen, E.(2013). Management of common sleep disorders. American Family Physician,88(4): 231-238.  Link

6.    Gutman, S.A., Gregory, K.A., Sadlier-Brown,M.M. et al. 2016. Comparative effectiveness of three occupational therapy sleep interventions. OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health, 37(1): 5–13. Link

7.    Henry, D., Rosenthal, L.,Dedrick, D., & Taylor, D. 2013. Understanding patient responses to insomnia. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 11: 40-55. Link

8.    National Sleep Foundation.2016. [online]. Healthy sleep tips. Available at: Link [Accessed March 2, 2020] 

9.    Montgomery G.H., David, D.,Kangas, M., et al. 2014. Randomized controlled trial of a cognitive‐behavioral therapy plus hypnosis intervention to control fatigue in patients undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 32(6): 557–563.  Link

10.  Kohen, D.P., & Olness, K. 2011.Hypnosis and hypnotherapy with children (4th ed.). New York: Routledge.

11.   Chamine, I., Atchley,R., & Oken, B. S. 2018. Hypnosis intervention effects on sleep outcomes: A systematic review. Journal of clinical sleep, 14(2): 271–283. Link

12.  Tan G., Rintala, D.H., Jensen, M.P., Fukui, T., Smith, D., Williams, W. 2015.A randomized controlled trial of hypnosis compared with biofeedback for adults with chronic low back pain. European Journal of Pain, 19(2):271–280. Link

13.  Slatter T. 2016. The use of hypnosis as an adjunct to cognitive behavioural therapy in the treatment of pain, anxiety, and sleeping difficulties associated with multiple sclerosis. AustralianJournal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis, 41(1):100-109. Link

14.  Hayes, S. J. 2016. The use of hypnosis as an adjunct to cognitive-behavioural therapy in the treatment of a 10-year-old boy experiencing sleep disturbance and chronic fatigue syndrome. Australian Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis, 41(1): 54–62. Link

15.  Bernal, L. J., López, A. T.,García, D. M. J., Cadena, C. H. G., & García, E. G. 2015. The effect of hypnotherapy in the sleep quality of women with breast cancer. Psicooncologia,12(1): 39–49 Link

16.  Shakir Quaid Johar. 2012. Acase of sleep bruxism treated through behavioural change using hypnosis. MedicalJournal of Dr. D.Y. Patil University, 2: 154. Link

17.  Abramowitz, E.G., Barak, Y.,Ben-Avi, I., Knobler, H.Y. 2008. Hypnotherapy in the treatment of chronic combat-related PTSD patients suffering from insomnia: A randomized, zolpidem-controlled clinical trial. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnotherapy, 56(3):270–280. Link

18.  Castel, A., Cascon, R., Padrol,A., Sala, J., Rull, M. 2012.Multicomponent cognitive-behavioral group therapy with hypnosis for the treatment of fibromyalgia: long-term outcome. Journal of Pain, 13(3):255–265. Link

19.  Crawford, H.J., Knebel, T.,Kaplan, L., Vendemia, J.M., Xie, M., Jamison, S., Pribram, K.H. 1998. Hypnoticanalgesia: 1. Somatosensory event-related potential changes to noxious stimuli and 2. Transfer learning to reduce chronic low back pain. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnotherapy, 46(1):92–132. Link

20.  Elkins, G., Johnson, A., Fisher, W., Sliwinski, J., Keith, T. 2013. A pilot investigation of guided self-hypnosis in the treatment of hot flashes among postmenopausal women. International Journal of Clinical andExperimental Hypnotherapy, 61(3):342–350. Link

21. Outwittrade [online] How to sleep better. Link

  1. CDC - Data and Statistics - Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html. Published 2022. Accessed January 21, 2022.
  2. Insomnia | NHLBI, NIH. Nhlbi.nih.gov. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/insomnia. Published 2022. Accessed January 21, 2022.
  3. Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Ninds.nih.gov. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep. Published 2022. Accessed January 21, 2022.

Similar Articles

What is Mindset?

We’re glad you asked! Mindset is a hypnotherapy app for mental health & positive thinking.

Personalized to you

Learn coping skills


Created by experts

Available 24/7

Loved by thousands

Take our free IBS quiz
Start now