Can hypnotherapy help insomnia?
A study published in 2018 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine of a group of people that showed that hypnotherapy together with good sleep hygiene led to a significant improvement in sleep for 50% (58.3%) of those studied after just two sessions. 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.
What is sleep hypnosis?
Sleep hypnosis is the use of hypnotherapy to address sleeping problems. As well as treating insomnia hypnosis is used to treat sleep problems in general. Hypnotherapy is used for addressing nightmares, sleep terrors, and parasomnias, like sleepwalking.
The aim of sleep hypnosis is not to make you 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 after the hypnotherapy session.
Conditions that can benefit from sleep hypnosis
As well as treating insomnia directly hypnosis can be used to treat issues with sleeping that are caused by health conditions, ranging from stress-related sleep problems to cancers, including:
- multiple sclerosis
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- sleep bruxism (grinding of the teeth)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- low back problems
- post-menopausal women
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
What are the benefits of using hypnotherapy to treat insomnia?
Hypnotherapy can deal with insomnia regardless of the root cause. It can treat insomnia itself and underlying issues such as stress, anxiety, or pain. You can learn self-hypnosis techniques so you can take control yourself, no longer dependant on a therapist. There are no adverse effects to treating insomnia with hypnotherapy.
Benefits of hypnotherapy:
- allows access to subconscious processes
- allows you to regress and change learnt beliefs and behaviours
- allows you to mental rehearse sleep well
- allows access to creative solutions
- reduces unhelpful automatic, subconscious processes
- empowers you to manage your emotions
- enables you to develop a better sense of self-efficacy
How Does Hypnotherapy work for insomnia?
Hypnotherapy help improve insomnia by encouraging relaxation, reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, both of which are strongly associated with sleeping problems. Hypnosis is also effective at treating pain which can also cause disturbed sleep. Hypnosis for insomnia enables you to break the negative thought patterns, creating an opportunity to reorient thoughts and emotions and promotes good sleep habits.
During your hypnotherapy sessions for insomnia, you can learn self-hypnosis, among other techniques, so that you can help yourself.
Hypnotherapy techniques for insomnia
Different hypnotherapeutic techniques can be used, including:
Metaphors are extremely useful way of communicating ideas to your subconscious mind. Your subconscious mind understands stories and images. The metaphors can be simple, for example, a metaphor of a fish going deeper into the water for deeper sleep. They can also be complex stories with embedded subplots that helps deal with more than one issue.
Age-regression techniques prompt you to focus on your earlier memories of periods when restorative sleep came easily. Regression can also be used to remove the anxiety or other emotional state associated with a traumatic event from the past. It can help locate the root cause of a problem or symptom and resolve it, it can resolve many issues all at the same time, at a very deep level.
Hypnotherapy encourages your body to activate its natural relaxation response, reducing levels of stress and anxiety, and instilling and overall sense of well-being.
Imagining/triggering the feeling that trying to sleep whilst maintaining a deeply relaxed state helps associate sleeping with a relaxation response instead of an anxious response.
Visualising calming imagery promotes relaxation, visualising yourself drift off into a deep sleep helps you mentally rehearse sleeping well. Visualising all the stress gathering and floating off into the distance – visualisation is a general technique that can be used in many ways to achieve many different outcomes.
Breathwork refers to any type of breathing exercises or techniques. You can learn to perform breathing exercises or techniques to improve mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. During breathwork you intentionally change your breathing pattern.
Many people find breathwork promotes deep relaxation or leaves them feeling energized.
Focusing on positive aspects of yourself or your life can reduce stress and anxiety and improve confidence and self-esteem. Recalling things, you have achieved, focusing on challenges you’ve overcome and the skills you are developed.
Changing unhelpful thinking habits
We tend to develop unhelpful thinking habits such as catastrophising or being too self-critical. When you struggle to sleep well for a period you can develop negative ways of thinking, particular about sleep. Once identified you become more aware of unhelpful thinking patterns. Enabling you to challenge/change/distance yourself from the unhelpful thoughts and see the situation in a more helpful way.
A post-hypnotic suggestion is any suggestion given to you while in hypnosis with the intention that you perform some action when you are no longer in hypnosis. In the case of someone suffers insomnia, a post-hypnotic suggestion and imagery may be used to suggest that you will feel sleepy as soon as you feel your head relaxing on the pillow and that you sleep deeper every night.
What happens during a hypnotherapy session for insomnia?
With hypnotherapy, we look at all aspects of a sleeping problem. During the sessions, we will look at your current sleep patterns, the difficulties you have with sleeping as well as how it affects your life.
Together we will explore any issues that may have occurred in your life that triggered a bout of insomnia, such as a redundancy or anxiety.
negative thinking styles and negative-self talk will be replaced with more positive frames of mind.
You will learn a wide variety of relaxation techniques to help reduce stress and anxiety. We will look at the thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that you hold about your sleeping pattern, the quality of sleep you get and how much you think you should be getting. You will develop the ability to be more aware of your thoughts during the day and learn ways to address any negative thoughts you might have about sleep and life generally so that they do not continue to run through your mind at night. We will cover general sleep hygiene to ensure that you are doing everything that you can to encourage an environment that is conducive to sleep. You may also will be taught self-hypnosis among other techniques so that you can help yourself.
How many hypnosis sessions are needed to treat insomnia?
The number of hypnotherapy sessions required for lasting change is different for everyone. Whilst Hypnotherapy is not a magic wand, it does help you create positive change in a relatively short period of time. How long it takes to see results from hypnotherapy for insomnia can vary based your personal circumstances. Typically for sleep related issues, a minimum of 4 – 8 sessions are required to benefit.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next day. Maybe you can’t seem to fall asleep, or perhaps you find it easy to fall asleep, but continue to wake up through the night. Either way, lack of sleep can leave you feeling drained and irritable. Those who suffer from insomnia will experience these feelings regularly.
Approximately a third of people in the UK have episodes of insomnia during their lives. It can affect anyone at any age, however people over the age of 60 and women appear to be more susceptible.
Different types of insomnia
There are different types of insomnia depending on how long it lasts, how it affects your sleep, and the underlying cause of your insomnia.
The two main categories of insomnia are:
Acute insomnia is short-term insomnia that can last from a few days to a few weeks. It’s the most common type of insomnia and sometimes called adjustment, temporary, transient or intermittent insomnia.
Acute insomnia can also be caused by:
- something disrupting your sleep, such as noise or light
- stress or anxiety
- change in routine or working conditions
- caffeine and alcohol
- sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings
- physical discomfort
- certain medications
- jet lag
Chronic insomnia is having trouble sleeping at least three days per week for at least one month.
Chronic insomnia can be primary or secondary. Primary chronic insomnia (idiopathic insomnia) doesn’t have an obvious cause or underlying medical condition. Secondary insomnia (comorbid insomnia) is chronic insomnia that occurs with another condition.
Common causes of chronic insomnia include:
- mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- chronic medical conditions, such as arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and sleep apnoea
- medications, including chemotherapy drugs, antidepressants, and beta blockers
- lifestyle factors
Other type of insomnia
While insomnia is either short-term or chronic, there are other terms that may be used to describe it.
Sleep onset insomnia is having difficulty falling, even after spending 20-30 minutes in bed. Onset insomnia can be short term or chronic.
Maintenance insomnia is an inability to stay asleep through the night. This means waking up at least once during the night and struggling to get back to sleep for at least 20-30 minutes.
Early morning awakening insomnia
Early morning awakening insomnia involves waking up well before you want or plan to. Some people consider this as a part of maintenance insomnia while others consider it separately.
Symptoms of insomnia
Symptoms differ depending on individual circumstances. However, there are common symptoms, including:
- Being awake for long periods at night.
- Not being able to fall asleep.
- Waking up several times during the night.
- Waking up very early and being unable to get back to sleep.
- Feeling tired and groggy the next morning.
- Finding it difficult to concentrate or function properly.
- Feeling irritable.
How much sleep you need
Everyone is different and we all need different amounts of sleep.
- adults need 7 to 9 hours
- children need 9 to 13 hours
- toddlers and babies need 12 to 17 hours
If you’re constantly tired during the day then you are probably do not getting enough sleep.
What causes insomnia?
It may be only one cause that leads to insomnia, or you may experience a combination of factors.
Some of the potential causes of insomnia include:
Physical health conditions
Suffering from a health condition that causes you discomfort or pain may cause insomnia. A condition that affects your breathing, such as asthma can also impact sleep patterns.
There is a chance that your medication is affecting your sleep. If you suspect a health problem or believe your medication may be causing your insomnia, then speak to your doctor.
Mental health conditions
Suffering severe depression or anxiety can cause insomnia. Depression and anxiety can also become worse when you are lacking sleep.
Shift work and working late into the evening can cause havoc with your internal clock and make it to switch off. Stimulants like alcohol or caffeine can affect your sleeping patterns, While it may seem easy to fall asleep after having a few drinks, it usually leads to poor sleep overall.
To receive an insomnia diagnosis, you should have one of the following:
- Difficulty falling asleep or remaining asleep
- Feelings of fatigue
- Impaired performance
- Less energy, or motivation
- Repeatedly waking up earlier than desired
- Feelings of resistance about going to sleep
- Difficulty concentrating, paying attention, or remembering
- Excessive sleepiness during the day
- behavioural problems such as irritability, impulsivity, or aggression
- Dissatisfaction or concern regarding sleep
Chronic insomnia can be diagnosed if your symptoms occur on at least 3 nights per week for three months or more. Otherwise, acute insomnia can be diagnosed if you have had symptoms for less than 3 months. A third condition known as other insomnia may be diagnosed if you do not meet the criteria for acute insomnia but nonetheless exhibits insomnia symptoms.
The cause of your insomnia symptoms is also important to your diagnosis. Secondary insomnia is caused by an underlying medical or psychological condition. Primary insomnia is no caused by an underlying medical or psychological condition. Primary and secondary insomnia share the same symptoms. However, treatment for secondary insomnia will typically also address the underlying condition.
Diagnosing insomnia may involve:
- A physical exam. Your doctor may do a physical exam to look for signs of medical problems related to insomnia. Occasionally, a blood test may be done to check for thyroid problems or other conditions
- A review of your sleep habits. To understand your sleeping patterns, you may be asked sleep-related questions. You may also be asked to keep a sleep diary for a couple of weeks.
- Studying your sleep study. If you have signs of another sleep disorder, such as sleep apnoea or restless legs syndrome, you may need to spend a night at a sleep centre. Tests are done to monitor and record your sleep activities including your breathing, brain waves, heartbeat, eye and body movements.
Treatment of insomnia
If your insomnia is caused by underlying medical or psychological conditions (secondary insomnia) then the underlying condition needs to be treated. For instance, if you’re waking up due to pain, your sleep will not improve until the pain issue is addressed.
Self-treat with over-the-counter medications and natural supplements, such as melatonin, valerian, and tryptophan.
If you’ve been having trouble sleeping for several weeks or more, you may want to consider psychological services to try behavioural therapy. These may include the following:
- Hypnotherapy can help deal with a lot of underlying issues like pain, stress, and anxiety. It enables you to break negative thought patterns, creating an opportunity to reorient thoughts and emotions and promotes good sleep habits
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you to recognise and deal with any negative habits and thoughts associated with your sleep. CBT is often combined with one of the other methods
- Stimulus-control therapy can help you to re-associate your bed and bedroom from going to sleep and to create a regular sleep routine.
- Relaxation therapy can help you relax your body and mind, reducing distracting thoughts
- Sleep restriction therapy limits the amount of time you spend in bed to the time when you go to sleep. You can then gradually increase the time you spend in bed as your sleep improves
If you are struggling to function during the day because of insomnia your GP may prescribe medicine to help you sleep. These medicines are often associated with side effects such as making you feel sleepy the next day. They also become gradually less effective the longer you take them, and you can become dependent on them if you take them for a long time. If you take them, you should only use them for as short a time as possible.
The main types of sleeping tablets include the following:
- Antihistamines (Nytol, Phenergan and Sominex), which you can buy over the counter without a prescription. These aren’t suitable if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or have certain health conditions. If you’re in any doubt, check with your pharmacist or doctor before taking them.
- Hypnotic medicines, which your GP may prescribe for a limited time if your insomnia is having a severe effect on your day-to-day life. For example, benzodiazepines, such as temazepam or loprazolam, and non-benzodiazepine ‘z-drugs’, such as zopiclone, zaleplon or zolpidem.
- Melatonin, which your doctor may prescribe for up to 13 weeks if you’re over 55 and are having ongoing problems with insomnia. Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces, which helps to control your sleep pattern.
Complementary therapies include acupuncture, homeopathy, and herbal remedies. Although there isn’t enough research to show whether complementary therapies help with insomnia, some people do try them. If you decide to give them a try, make sure you choose a reputable practitioner, registered with the appropriate regulatory body.
Tips to improve your sleep routine
Relaxation is a vital part of an effective hypnotherapy session. It’s important to practise some self-help tips at home to enhance your experience.
Improve your sleep hygiene by practising the following:
- Create a routine. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise helps to reduce stress and moving your body will make you physically tired.
- Cut down on alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. Replace tea and coffee with herbal teas.
- Avoid large meals late at night. Eat lightly in the evening. Heavy meals make it more difficult for your body to shut down during digestion.
- Make relaxation a priority. Dedicate some time in the evening to have a warm bath or read a book.
- Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom. Studies have found electronic devices to affect sleep. Try to keep them out of the bedroom and stop using them an hour before bed.
- Write a to-do list. Sleep can be difficult if you are busy thinking about all the things you need to do the next day. Get the worries out of your head and write them down.
- Make your bedroom more sleep-friendly. Ensure your bed and pillows are comfortable and keep your room cool and dark.
Your space to sleep
Your bedroom should first and foremost be a place for sleep. All too many of us use our bedrooms as a second office or sitting room – watching TV, using smartphones, and even eating. Your mind should associate your bedroom with sleep. Keep your bedroom quiet and dark – reduce any noise (remove devices, loudly ticking clocks etc.)
Your bed makes a big difference to your quality of sleep too. Ensure your pillow and mattress are comfortable and that you are not too hot or too cold.
What you do during the day can have a big impact on how you sleep at night.
Coffee, tea, chocolate, and cola/energy drinks all contain caffeine. In moderate amounts (up to four cups of brewed coffee or eight cups of tea), caffeine is safe, can count towards your daily fluid intake and may even reduce the risk of dementia. But it can keep you awake. If you’re struggling to sleep, try decaff drinks from early afternoon.
Don’t sleep on a full stomach
Sleeping is easier if your mind and body are resting. Your body will not be resting if it’s still digesting food. Once you are lying down you are more likely to suffer heartburn as stomach acid can reflux into your gullet much more easily as it doesn’t have to travel against gravity. If you suffer from heartburn, avoid eating for at least three hours before bed. If you do get heartburn, prop the head of your bed up.
Exercise is a great way to improve sleep, the strain of exercising helps you relax deeper but avoid exercising too close to bedtime when it can have the opposite effect.
Although alcohol may help you to get to sleep the quality of your sleep will be a lot less than without alcohol. Keep your alcohol intake down for better, deeper, more restorative sleep.
Screen breaks are most important in the evening. Try to power down your devices at least 3 hours before bed. This can help stop blue light (the light from devices) from affecting your body’s release of the sleep hormone melatonin. More melatonin means better sleep.
Have realistic expectations
Most people assume they ‘need’ eight hours of sleep a night. While the average is 7-9 hours everyone is different. If you only sleep six hours a night but don’t feel tired the next day, that could be normal for you.
Sleeping tablets are not the answer
Sleeping tablets only work in the short term and are highly addictive. At best they are a temporary solution and if you become dependent on them then finding a long-term solution is more difficult. What’s more, they increase the risk of accidents and have been linked to a higher risk of death. If you’re taking them regularly, speak with your GP about how to wean yourself off.
Relax your mind
It’s easy for your mind to start working overtime when you turn off the light and they are no other distractions. Make an active effort to put your worries to bed before you put yourself to bed.
If necessary, deal with any issues before you sleep and jot down a list of things you can’t deal with straight away to look at the next day.