Because of how it’s portrayed in popular culture, hypnosis is commonly misunderstood. As a result, it is often overlooked or discounted as a potential treatment for a range of medical conditions.
When administered in a tailored way, hypnosis can focus a person’s attention in a way that allows them to receive suggestions that can positively change their thoughts and behavior. Early research indicates that it has limited side effects and may help people with insomnia and other sleeping problems.
Before getting started with sleep hypnosis, it’s important to know the facts about what it is, how it works, its pros and cons, and ways to make the most of this type of therapy.
What Is Hypnosis?
Hypnosis is a state of consciousness in which a person is focused intensely on a particular idea or image. This reduces their peripheral awareness and fosters what can appear to be a trance-like state.
During hypnosis, a person’s brain activity changes, creating receptiveness to new ideas. Hypnotherapy is a type of mind-body medicine that conveys suggestions to a person during hypnosis in order to positively influence their thoughts and actions.
Hypnotherapy has shown benefits for treating several types of health problems including pain and some side effects of cancer treatment. It can be helpful in addressing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression and may assist with behavior change like quitting smoking or losing weight.
Is Hypnosis Mind Control?
Hypnosis is not mind control. During hypnosis, a person is generally more open to suggestions, but they still demonstrate agency and an ability to control their decisions.
Worries about mind control are usually based on stage acts or TV programs that do not represent how hypnosis is actually used in medicine. While some people who are highly hypnotizable may seem to be fully under the influence of a hypnotist, decades of research demonstrate that hypnosis should not be confused with mind control.
Are You Asleep During Hypnosis?
Hypnosis does not involve falling asleep. Instead, a person remains awake, but their focus is fixed in a way that may make them seem zoned out or in a trance.
What Is Sleep Hypnosis?
Sleep hypnosis is the use of hypnotherapy to address sleeping problems. The goal of sleep hypnosis is not to make a person fall asleep during the hypnosis itself. Instead, it works to change negative thoughts or habits related to sleep so that a person can sleep better once hypnotherapy is complete.
Hypnosis for sleep may be combined with other types of treatment. For example, it can be used alongside cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), a form of counseling that reframes negative thinking about sleep. Sleep hypnosis may also promote sleep hygiene improvements to develop healthier sleep-related routines.
How Does Hypnotherapy Work?
Hypnotherapy involves several steps to prepare, carry out, and finish the process.
- Informed consent: Before beginning, the process is explained so that a patient knows what to expect, has an opportunity to ask questions, and can consent to the therapy.
- Visualizing calming imagery: Hypnosis normally starts with a focus on a calming image or thought. This beginning step promotes relaxation that enables an escalating level of focus.
- Deepening focus: Hypnosis requires intense focus, so once a person is calm, further instructions enhance attention on the calming imagery.
- Therapeutic suggestions: Once a person is in the trance-like condition, specific suggestions are offered that are tailored to address their medical problem or symptoms.
- Ending hypnosis: In the final step, the patient is guided to return to being fully awake and alert.
People trained in clinical hypnosis can help ensure that each of these steps are carefully followed. Many types of health professionals, including doctors, nurses, psychologists, and psychiatrists, can receive training and certification to conduct hypnotherapy.
Hypnotherapy frequently involves more than one session, but it usually does not need to be provided on a continuing basis in order for a patient to benefit.
How Can Sleep Hypnosis Be Done?
Sleep hypnosis follows the same steps as hypnotherapy and involves therapeutic suggestions targeted to sleep. For example, hypnotherapy may encourage a person to feel less anxious about falling asleep or to follow a more consistent sleep schedule.
Experts recommend that sleep hypnotherapy be conducted under the guidance of a trained health professional. A person with extensive training can most effectively lead a person through each stage of the process and customize suggestions to meet their needs.
While most studies have focused on in-person hypnosis, there is some evidence that self-hypnosis may be possible using audio recordings, videos, or smartphone apps. A study of cancer survivors found that most people were able to follow audio recordings for at-home hypnosis, and many perceived some benefits.
For some people, a recording, video, or app may be more practical than going to a doctor or counselor’s office. However, studies of at-home hypnosis tools, such as apps, have found that many lack scientific credentials or evidence of their effectiveness.
In some cases, a person may be able to conduct an initial session of hypnosis with a trained provider who can then recommend follow-up exercises to perform at home to reinforce the benefits of hypnotherapy.
Until further research is conducted about the effectiveness of self-guided hypnosis alone, patients should talk with their doctor or counselor before beginning to use any hypnosis recording, video, or app.
Does Hypnotherapy Help With Sleep Problems?
By encouraging relaxation and creating an opportunity to reorient thoughts and emotions, hypnosis may be a useful tool in enhancing sleep for people with conditions like insomnia.
Small studies have identified modest sleep benefits from hypnotherapy. In one study, the suggestion to “sleep deeper” during hypnosis prompted increased slow-wave sleep, which is important for physical and mental recovery.
Hypnotherapy may reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, both of which are strongly correlated with sleeping problems. It has been employed to treat pain as well, which can also cause disturbed sleep.
While hypnosis is a promising treatment, more clinical studies are needed to establish its sleep benefits. An analysis of the existing research found that the majority of studies reported better sleep in people receiving hypnotherapy, but larger, more robust studies will be necessary before it can be considered a standard treatment for sleeping problems.
Can Hypnotherapy Work For Anyone?
Hypnotherapy does not work for everyone. Researchers have found that people have different levels of hypnotizability. Though estimates vary, it is believed that roughly 15% of people are highly receptive to hypnosis. About one-third of people are resistant to hypnosis and unlikely to benefit from hypnotherapy.
The remaining people fall on a spectrum somewhere in-between and may be helped by hypnosis. Among these individuals, a desire for change and a positive attitude can increase the likelihood of successful hypnotherapy. People in this category may also be trained to become more receptive to hypnosis.
Hypnotherapy can be provided to people of almost any age. Adolescents are thought to more easily enter into a hypnotic state, but adults and the elderly can also be hypnotized.
What Are the Risks of Sleep Hypnosis?
Hypnotherapy is generally considered to be safe when conducted by a trained professional, but rare adverse reactions have been described. It is important to talk with a health professional before starting hypnosis. A doctor or counselor can discuss any risks in a person’s specific situation. For example, people with mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be advised to use caution and only receive hypnotherapy from a highly experienced counselor.
Making the Most Of Sleep Hypnotherapy
You are most likely to benefit from sleep hypnosis if you talk with your doctor first. Addressing sleep symptoms with a doctor can help make sure that they aren’t being caused by an underlying health condition or sleep disorder.
Working with a professional trained in hypnotherapy can help ensure that you get high-quality care that is integrated into your specific treatment plan.
Helpful Tips if You Find Hypnosis Effective
If you’ve started sleep hypnosis and find it helpful, there are a few tips that may allow you to further improve your sleep:
- Ask for follow-up resources: Talk with the person who guided your hypnotherapy and ask about techniques for building upon your success. This may include hypnosis activities, including recordings or apps, that you can do at home. It could also be strategies for relaxation such as listening to calming music.
- Develop dependable routines: Habits have a major influence on behavior. If you’ve noticed a positive change in your sleep routine, make a point of sticking with it for an extended period so that the habit can become nearly automatic.
- Schedule a follow-up: Try to monitor your nightly sleep and daytime energy, and if you notice problems arising, schedule a follow up with your doctor to see if hypnotherapy or another approach can help get you back on track.
What Other Approaches Can Help With Sleep?
Like any medical therapy, hypnosis isn’t always effective. For people who are resistant to hypnosis or who simply don’t find it useful for sleep, there are other ways to promote better sleep.
Many sleeping problems can be addressed by upgrading your sleep hygiene. Examples of sleep hygiene improvements include:
- Following the same sleep schedule every day, including on weekends.
- Avoiding excess mental stimulation, including from electronic devices, in the lead-up to bedtime.
- Reducing or eliminating intake of caffeine and alcohol in the afternoon and evening.
- Making your bedroom conducive to sleep by limiting excess light and sound. For example, dark curtains can keep your bedroom dark, and white noise can help drown out external noises.
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