Hypnotherapy uses the deeply relaxed and natural state of hypnosis to help people create positive emotional and behavioral changes in their lives. It is a solution-based treatment that has been proven to be effective when working with a variety of sleep disorders including insomnia, sleep apnea, and snoring.
A typical course of hypnosis treatment for someone with a sleep disorder will consist of an in depth evaluation followed by two or three 60-90 minute sessions. More sessions are sometimes recommended depending on the needs of the person.
Central Concepts of Hypnotherapy
Hypnosis, or hypnotic trance, is a state of physical and mental relaxation where the critical faculty is bypassed and a person becomes open to accepting positive suggestions for change. Although some people appear to be resistant to hypnosis,1 even they can benefit from the process by simply following the suggestions of the therapist as best they can.
Physical and Mental Relaxation
The first step in achieving a hypnotic trance is to relax both physically and mentally. This is accomplished by moving through a progressive attention through each part of the body. The therapist will guide the person with relaxing suggestions and imagery to help release and let go of tension. Once the body is relaxed, mental relaxation is more easily achieved giving rise to feelings of ease and peacefulness.
Bypassing the Critical Faculty
The critical faculty is that aspect of mind which analyzes, evaluates, and helps to make decisions. Even though it serves a very useful function, it is sometimes not enough to create lasting change. For example, a person may decide they are going to lose weight and eat healthy but find themselves struggling to stay on their chosen diet. This is because deeply ingrained habits and motivations are stored in a deeper part of the mind called the subconscious.
In the trance state, the critical faculty can be bypassed once the person is sufficiently relaxed and focused. This allows the person to connect directly with the subconscious mind and work with the powerful beliefs and motivations there. In the above example, the person may discover their relationship to food is based on a deep need for love and safety. The therapist can then help the person find new, healthy solutions to meeting those needs.
Who Is Hypnotherapy Right For?
Most people who are willing and ready to change can benefit from hypnotherapy. Self-efficacy, the belief that a person has the ability to succeed in achieving his or her goals, plays an important part in the outcome of any program involving hypnosis treatment.2
If a person is lacking that kind of self-confidence, the hypnotherapist will take that into account and work with the person to reframe any doubts or hesitations that may limit the effectiveness of the treatment.
Once some degree of self-efficacy is established, hypnotherapy can help people working on issues surrounding:
- Sleep disruption
- Restless sleep
- Sleep apnea and snoring*
- Lifestyle and health issues related to sleep
Although there is evidence to suggest that some people cannot be hypnotized, it is not clear whether this is caused by physiological or psychological factors. Basic tests for a person’s level of suggestibility can determine whether or not they will be responsive to hypnotherapy.
*Sleep apnea can be a serious condition with physiological or psychological causes such as obesity, chemical dependency, or chronic depression. Always consult with a variety of health professionals when exploring treatment options such as hypnotherapy.
How Can Hypnotherapy Help Someone Sleep?
Getting proper sleep is crucial to maintaining good physical, emotional, and overall health. If the quality and quantity of sleep is insufficient a number of moderate to severe health effects can arise.
Adverse effects of poor quality sleep can include:
- Memory issues
- Trouble concentrating
- Mood changes
- High blood pressure
- Higher risk of diabetes
- Weight gain
- Risk of heart disease
With its emphasis on physical and mental relaxation, hypnotherapy can be a highly effective treatment for sleep issues. For example, with the help of a therapist a person suffering from insomnia can learn relaxing self-hypnosis techniques that calm the body and mind. In a more relaxed state, sleep becomes easier to achieve and maintain.
Good sleep hygiene and health habits can also be cultivated and reinforced with the help of hypnotherapy. Positive hypnotic suggestions given in the trance state can support changes in diet, exercise routines, and more effectively dealing with anxiety or racing thoughts.
Example of Hypnosis for Sleep
A typical course of hypnosis treatment for a sleep issue will include an initial assessment, several hypnosis sessions, and some kind of follow-up and support.
During an initial assessment a hypnotherapist will ask a person about their sleep-related patterns, behaviors, and conditions. Some of the factors to look at may include:
- Caffeine, soft drink, and sugar consumption
- Length and frequency of day time naps
- Quality of bedding
- Exercise routines too close to bedtime
- Regular bedtimes and wake-up times
Another thing to consider is whether or not the main sleeping area is used for other mentally stimulating activities such as watching T.V., catching up on work, answering emails, etc.
Once any obvious causes of the sleep issue are identified, the therapist will work with the person to begin making the appropriate changes to better facilitate healthy sleep.
After this, the hypnosis sessions will begin. The first session will introduce the person to the hypnotic process and the trance state. While in trance, the person may begin to explore and address any subconscious causes of the sleep issue such as underlying worries, stresses, or even unresolved past trauma.
Other strategies the therapist may employ include using guided imagery and post-hypnotic suggestions.
In the case of guided imagery, the person may be instructed to recall a time before the sleep issue came up and re-experience in detail what good sleep feels like. Repeating this exercise several times effectively retrains the body and mind to do what it once effortlessly knew how to do: sleep properly through the night.
Post-hypnotic suggestions can also be repeated to the person in trance. These can be positive, affirming statements such as “As soon as I get into bed, I let go of all thoughts and concerns from the day,” or, “I allow my body and mind to relax when it is time for sleep so I fall asleep quickly and easily.”
After treatment is complete, a good hypnotherapist will help create some kind of follow up plan. This can include teaching self-hypnosis techniques that can be used at home or hypnosis recordings that can help support better sleep until firm habits are in place.
Is Hypnotherapy Effective for Sleep?
Numerous peer reviewed studies and meta-analyses have been done that suggest that hypnosis and hypnotherapy are effective treatments for a variety of sleep issues and disorders.
A single-site, randomized controlled trial examined the effectiveness of sleep-directed hypnosis as a complement to an empirically supported psychotherapy for PTSD. It found that participants who received complimentary hypnosis treatment showed significant improvement in sleep quality over the control group. It concluded that hypnosis was effective in improving sleep impairment.3
A randomized control trial of 90 menopausal women by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health found that 50-77% of participants reported clinically meaningful improvements in reducing the perception of poor sleep quality over time. The study concluded that overall, the use of self-hypnosis as a treatment program for sleep problems related to menopause was acceptable for women.4
One trial studied ninety five women with different cancers. Group‐by‐time effects were shown for fatigue, sleep, emotional distress and cognitive functioning showing that symptoms improved in the intervention group compared to the wait‐list control group.5
A retrospective chart review was performed for 84 children and adolescents with insomnia. Two or fewer hypnosis sessions were provided to 68% of the patients. Of the 70 patients reporting a delay in sleep onset of more than 30 minutes, 90% reported a reduction in sleep onset time following hypnosis. Of the 21 patients reporting nighttime awakenings more than once a week, 52% reported resolution of the awakenings and 38% reported improvement.6
How to Find a Hypnotherapist to Help You Sleep
As hypnosis gains popularity there are more and more hypnotherapists to choose from. Making an educated choice requires some time and research. Here a few considerations for choosing your therapist.
Become more knowledgeable about hypnosis by reading articles and books, watching YouTube videos, and listening to podcasts. A little knowledge goes a long way when it comes to making decisions about your health and well-being.
Check Up on Credentials
Requirements vary from state to state, country to country. Some states in the U.S. allow people to describe themselves as hypnotherapists while others only allow the title “hypnotist” or “clinical hypnotist.” Either way, check the credentials of any prospective therapist and make sure they are qualified to practice in your state or region.
Schedule Free Consultations
Many hypnotherapists offer initial consultations for free. These are great opportunities to personally meet a number of different therapists and compare their services. In the end, trust your gut. If you get the impression that the therapist has empathy for your issue and you feel a sense of rapport, then that person is probably going to be a good fit.
There are a number of professional organizations that manage updated directories of hypnotists and hypnotherapists. Some of these include The National Guild of Hypnotists, HMI College of Hypnotherapy, and the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.
Pros & Cons of Hypnotherapy for Sleep
Hypnotherapy is an all natural and non-intrusive alternative to traditional sleep disorder treatments. However, as with any course of treatment, all the pros and cons should be considered.
Some of the pros of utilizing hypnosis to help with sleep include:
- Drug free: Pharmacological solutions are common when treating sleep disorders such as insomnia. These carry the risk of unpleasant side effects including dependency.
- Safe: Hypnosis is a non-invasive form of treatment. In addition, the person in trance is always aware of their experience and is in no danger of doing anything against their will. A 2016 review of 5 major meta-analyses concluded that hypnotherapy is safe and effective for treating a variety of issues.7
- Self empowering: Most hypnotherapy treatments will include learning some form of self hypnosis. This is an effective way of treating many issues and allows the person to take their health and well-being into their own hands.
The cons of using hypnosis for sleep include:
- May not solve all issues: Although hypnosis has been proven to be effective for many sleep issues, not every case will yield successful results. For example, for severe cases of disorders such as sleep apnea, hypnotherapy should be considered with the advice of a medical professional.
- Insurance: Hypnotherapy is not currently commonly covered by most insurance companies. Check with your insurance provider before committing to a course of hypnosis treatment if paying out of pocket is prohibitive.
- Results vary: Not all hypnosis treatments are the same. As of yet there are no definitive industry wide standards for how to treat any given issue. Ask your therapist about their specific treatment plan for sleep issues when deciding what course of action to take.
At-Home Hypnosis for Sleep
Sleep is an important part of a healthy life. Here are three ways you can support your good sleep habits through hypnosis at home:
Self hypnosis is an easy way to support a good night’s sleep. The mechanics of a self-hypnosis session are not that difficult to learn. Many books and other resources have scripts for self-hypnosis routines that can be memorized or recorded. Once you have learned how to create a trance state for yourself, you can repeat positive suggestions to yourself silently or out loud.
When creating self-suggestions be sure to keep them simple, positive, and in the present tense. Some examples include:
- “With each breath, I become more and more deeply relaxed.”
- “My thoughts are starting to wind down…wind down…as I easily drift and fall into a deep and pleasant sleep.”
- “Whenever I feel the comfort of my bed, I automatically begin to ready myself for a healthy night’s sleep.”
Be creative. See what works and discard what doesn’t.
There are many hypnosis recordings designed specifically for sleep. Some utilize progressive relaxation and hypnotic suggestions while others feature relaxing music or natural soundscapes that can induce sleep. These recordings can be downloaded or purchased on the web or custom made by a local hypnotherapist.
A daily meditation practice can also help support healthy sleep. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, blood pressure, anxiety and other causative factors of sleep disturbance.8
Here are a few tips to start a meditation practice.
- Don’t over do it. Start with a manageable amount of time each day. Even five minutes can be beneficial.
- Set aside the same time every day. If you are a morning person, meditate first thing in the morning. Other people have more free time after everyone else has gone to bed. In any case, habits are easier to form when there is consistency.
- Keep it simple. Spend your meditation time being mindful of the breath. If thoughts arise (and they will) simply notice them and do your best to let them go. Then return your attention to the breath.
For Further Reading
For more information about hypnotherapy for sleep and hypnosis in general see these resources:
- Hypnosis Basics A video explaining some of the basic principles of hypnosis.
- The National Sleep Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, charitable organization. Its mission is to improve health and well-being through sleep education and advocacy.
- The National Guild of Hypnotists offers educational material as well as a listing of hypnotists who are in good standing with the Guild.
- HMI College of Hypnotherapy offers free videos on hypnosis and self-improvement.
- Mental Health America
- National Alliance on Mental Health