Does Sleep Hypnosis Work? What Science Has to Say
Hypnosis isn’t the same as what is portrayed in movies. Hypnotherapy might be able to help people sleep better long term without negative side effects.
Feb 4th, 2021 •
When most of us envision hypnosis, we imagine someone swinging a timepiece back and forth, performing some sort of mystical mind control. Once hypnotized, we envision a human puppet that will do or say what they’re told. But, as any hypnotherapist or patient will tell you, that reputation is far from accurate.
So, what exactly is hypnosis?
It’s a focused state of mind brought about through verbal instruction. If you’ve ever gone to a meditation class where an instructor uses language to deepen your experience, it’s a bit like that. You are guided by your hypnotherapist into a hyper-focused state of mind. Depending on the state that’s encouraged, hypnosis might help with:
In this article, we will answer your questions about sleep hypnosis: what it is, how it works, and who it might benefit.
Sleep hypnosis, or sleep hypnotherapy, is a guided session led by clinical hypnotherapists. During the session, hypnotic suggestion is used on your subconscious mind to get you into a trance-like state. For example, a calming, soft voice might encourage you to let go by using words and phrases, such as “easily,” “relax,” and “calm.”
It’s important to understand that hypnosis isn’t sleep. Rather, when you’re under hypnosis, you are in a hyper-focused state that uses a variety of suggestions to help manage sleep difficulties. These sessions can occur directly before a nap, before bedtime, or be completely separate. For some, the effects can last for years.
Sleep hypnotherapy isn’t usually a solo treatment. It can be part of an integrated approach, used along with therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Limited research suggests that hypnotherapy could help people with the following conditions sleep better:
Because this type of therapy depends on the power of suggestion, its efficacy will vary from one person to another. The more “suggestable” you are, the more likely it will work. If you’re skeptical, you’re unlikely to experience much benefit. In fact, about 25% of people are unable to be hypnotized.
One huge pro for hypnotherapy is that it’s safe. This allows patients to try it out without worrying about side effects.
Very little research has been conducted on hypnosis for sleep disorders. However, the research that’s been done is promising. We will review what the research has to say when it comes to sleep hypnosis.
Hypnotherapy Might Increase Deep Sleep
Every night when you drift off to bed, your brain cycles through different stages of sleep:
- Stage 1: Light sleep
- Stage 2: Light sleep
- Stage 3: Deep, slow wave sleep
- REM (rapid eye movement) sleep
Stage 3, in particular, is known to be important for our cognitive function. The more time you spend in deep sleep, the more rejuvenated you’re likely to feel in the morning. This sleep stage is also important for memory. In order to get enough rejuvenating stage 3 sleep, you must clock enough hours in bed each night.
Many people fail to get enough deep sleep. This isn’t only the case for people with sleep disorders like insomnia, but also for adults as we age. As we grow older, we spend less time each night in deep sleep. In one study, researchers found that the percentage of time in slow wave sleep fell from 18.9% in young adults (16-25 years) to 3.4% in adults between 36 and 50 years old.
Scientists believe that we can improve cognitive health and function by increasing how much time we spend each night in stage 3 sleep. Researchers are hard at work looking for safe ways to boost slow wave sleep.
In a 2014 study published in Sleep, researchers found that the amount of time spent in deep sleep could be enhanced using hypnotic suggestion. In this study, 70 women were split into a either a hypnotic suggestion or control tape group. Each had their tape played before a 90-minute nap. Those in the hypnosis group were played a suggestion to “sleep deeper.” This group spent an average of 81% more time in slow wave sleep and 67% less time awake than those in the control group.
This study suggests that hypnosis sessions could be used to safely increase the time we spend in slow wave sleep. Increasing time in slow wave sleep will encourage us to wake up feeling refreshed and energetic.
Sleep Hypnosis May Help Treat Parasomnias
Parasomnias are sleep disorders characterized by undesirable experiences or events that occur either close to sleep or during sleep. Some common examples include sleepwalking, wetting the bed, and night terrors. Many small sleep studies have found hypnosis work to be beneficial for treating parasomnias.
In one of these studies, 36 patients with chronic parasomnias underwent 1 to 2 hypnotherapy sessions that were followed by questionnaires for the following 5 years. From these questionnaires, they found that:
- 45.4% experienced improvement at 1 month
- 42.2% experienced improvement at 18 months
- 40.5% experienced improvement at 5 years
Larger, placebo-controlled studies are needed to confirm these results before we can draw any definitive conclusions.
Hypnotherapy and Insomnia
Insomnia is a condition where it is nearly impossible to sleep throughout the night. It’s one of the most common sleep problems in the US. For those who are easily suggestible, sleep hypnosis might help with falling asleep easier and sleeping more soundly.
A 2015 meta-analysis examined evidence from studies on hypnotherapy for insomnia. They found that hypnosis shortened the time to fall asleep without any side effects. Yet, none of these studies found a difference between hypnotherapy and a placebo intervention. More research is needed to determine if hypnotherapy can help with insomnia.
The jury is still out on sleep hypnosis. Limited studies do find positive results with few, if any, side effects. With the possibility of customized, long-lasting relief, many people try sleep hypnosis for sleep disorders. Be sure to find an accredited hypnotherapist for the best results.
How much deep sleep you get each night is directly related to how rested you feel the following morning. Learn how this slow-wave sleep stage is central for your health and wellbeing.
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Parasomnias like sleepwalking, sleep talking and night terrors can be harmful to your sleep and overall health. Learn more about what causes them and what steps you can take to make sure they don't disrupt your sleep.