What Is Sleep Hypnosis & Does It Really Work?
6 min read
Last Modified 9 April 2021 First Added 6 April 2021
Ask two different people to tell you about hypnosis and you’ll probably get two very different answers. There are those who see it as wholly scientific, rooted in psychology and the mind. Others label it a cheap trick, a mesmerism harkening back to the 18th century where all manner of peddlers and con men pitched hypnosis as a magical dark art.
Nowadays, hypnosis is used much more commonly than you may first realise. From anti-smoking clinics across the country to performance labs of forward-thinking sports teams. At the Sleep Matters Club, we’re interested in all things sleep and in this article we’ll focus specifically on hypnotherapy for sleep, delving into sleep hypnosis in all its forms.
Before we start, let’s quickly answer a common question: whether hypnosis is real or not?
Quite simply, we believe it is. And it’s widely used too. Medical practitioners and scientists around the world have frequently given credence to the benefits of hypnotherapy, including sleep hypnosis. In an article for Time Magazine, Irving Kirsch, lecturer and program director of Placebo Studies at Harvard Medical School, said that:
hypnosis is a well-studied and legitimate form of adjunct treatment for conditions ranging from obesity and pain after surgery, to anxiety and stress.
Over at Healthline, the story is similar:
Hypnosis is a genuine psychological therapy process. It’s often misunderstood and not widely used. However, medical research continues to clarify how and when hypnosis can be used as a therapy tool.
So, now we’re all on the same page about the real-world impact of hypnosis, let’s dig into those forms of hypnosis which revolve around sleep.
Sleep hypnosis refers to several types of hypnotherapy which all involve sleep.
The first type of sleep hypnosis is that which helps us drift off to sleep through a form of guided meditation.
The second is hypnotherapy designed to help us address sleep problems. This is less about falling asleep at the moment of hypnosis and more about changing our negative thoughts about sleep so that when night-time arrives, we’re able to nod off without issue.
Finally, other forms of sleep hypnosis include those that happen while we are sleeping. These can revolve around vocal cues to boost confidence through to smoking prevention and weight loss.
As mentioned, sleep hypnosis has a wide range of uses. Most commonly though, sleep hypnosis refers to a gentle, guided meditation that helps us drift off to sleep. But it can also be used to help prevent sleepwalking, manage insomnia and reduce anxiety. We’ll explore each in a little more detail below:
Achieving deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep (SWS), is important. But as we age, our bodies find it more and more difficult to reach this part of our sleep cycle. In a study on how hypnosis affects deep sleep by Maren J Cordi and colleagues, hypnosis was determined super effective at increasing deep sleep.
After participants listened to the hypnotic suggestion to “sleep deeper” subsequent SWS was increased by 81% and time spent awake was reduced by 67%
In a summary of the study, it was noted that:
Our results demonstrate the effectiveness of hypnotic suggestions to specifically increase the amount and duration of slow-wave sleep (SWS) in a midday nap using objective measures of sleep in young, healthy, suggestible females. Hypnotic suggestions might be a successful tool with a lower risk of adverse side effects than pharmacological treatments to extend SWS also in clinical and elderly populations.
Sleepwalking, which usually occurs during deep sleep, is where a person completes complex activities (such as walking) while still asleep. It’s typically not dangerous and is often something that will phase out over time. Still, there are occasions where it becomes a problem and often, health professionals will recommend hypnosis as a remedy. In an article for Psychology Today, based on numerous studies, the use of hypnosis for sleepwalking is deemed highly effective:
results have shown that properly screened sleep walking patients can experience significant improvement with the use of clinical hypnosis. These techniques have been used in small-scale studies with remarkably positive effects. In fact, hypnosis has shown encouraging results for a range of parasomnias such as nightmares and sleep walking.
Insomnia treatments can range widely, from sleeping tablets and other medicinal remedies right through to small-scale lifestyle changes such as dietary swaps or sleep routine improvements. One such treatment is sleep hypnosis. Involving the use of verbal and/or visual cues, sleep hypnosis can help those who suffer from insomnia avoid the triggers which typically prevent them from sleeping. It’s not an exact science as research is still in its infancy, but in a review of all research based on the use of hypnotherapy for sleep disorders, hypnosis was deemed:
a promising treatment that merits further investigation.
Hypnosis has been proven to help reduce anxiety across a number of studies. And as we’ve discussed in our article on reducing stress and anxiety for a greater night’s sleep, the reduction of stress can have a real positive impact on our ability to fall asleep. Whether through a recorded podcast, guided YouTube video, or self-hypnosis, undergoing hypnosis at the point of sleep can help to reduce anxious thoughts and allow us to drift into sleep. Over at The Harvard Medical School, it was noted that:
Hypnosis also helps to alleviate anxiety. It has been studied most as a treatment for anxiety related to surgery. Many studies have reported that hypnosis reduced anxiety levels and lowered blood pressure in patients before surgery, and enhanced recovery afterwards by shortening hospital stays and reducing complications like nausea and vomiting.
While research is still in its infancy, for how hypnosis can help sleep disorders like insomnia, there is a breadth of science that indicates sleep hypnosis has its use. With several studies showing that deep sleep is more easily achieved with hypnosis, to the mere popularity of sleep hypnosis apps and YouTube videos, there’s no doubt that this is a field likely to keep growing.