Is Sleep Hypnosis Effective and How Does It Work?

Medically reviewed by
 Dr. Nayantara Santhi

Dr. Nayantara Santhi

Dr. Nayantara Santhi holds an academic position at Northumbria University. After completing her Ph.D. at Northeastern University (Boston, MA), she joined the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School as a post-doctoral fellow to research how sleep and circadian rhythmicity influence our cognitive functioning.

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Last Updated On October 9th, 2023
Is Sleep Hypnosis Effective and How Does It Work?

Key Takeaways

  • Sleep Hypnosis as a Treatment Option: Sleep hypnosis is a form of hypnotherapy used to treat individuals with sleeping issues or disorders. It is considered a mind-body intervention that helps individuals reach a relaxed state, making them more receptive to suggestions. It can be used to address sleep anxiety, insomnia, and other sleeping disorders.
  • The Process of Sleep Hypnosis: Sleep hypnosis typically involves a series of steps, including getting comfortable, relaxing both physically and mentally, inducing a hypnotic state, focusing on breathing, and receiving suggestions from the hypnotist. The goal is to replace negative thought patterns or anxieties related to sleep with positive, calming suggestions.
  • Effectiveness Considerations: Sleep hypnosis can be effective for some individuals, especially those who believe in the power of suggestion and are open to the process. Research has shown positive results in treating insomnia, parasomnia, and sleep anxiety. However, its effectiveness varies among individuals, and it may not work for everyone.

Dealing with sleeping disorders can be frustrating — especially if you’ve tried all of the regularly recommended treatment suggestions to no avail.

“We spend a third of our lives sleeping and sleep plays a central role in regulating brain functions that are vital to waking activities,” says Dr. Nayantara Santhi. “Yet in our modern lives we routinely sacrifice sleep, for work or leisure and suffer the consequences which include  deficits in attention, working memory, emotion and even social relationships.”

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“It is not surprising that sleep health approaches are becoming increasingly popular. Actively managing our sleep can be as beneficial as good diet and exercise.”

With over 70 million people in the US Verified Source Cleveland Clinic Ranked #2 hospital by U.S. News & World Report and one of the largest academic medical centers in America. The Cleveland Clinic serves patients from all over the world. View source suffering from some type of sleeping disorder, if you’re not finding relief from conventional medical treatments, turning to holistic and psychological solutions may be next on your list. One controversial technique — sleep hypnosis — may be worth exploring if your sleeping troubles become drastic.

Sleep hypnosis may sound more magic and myth than scientific, but hypnosis is a tool used by some psychologists to help patients overcome addictions, behavioral issues, and in some cases, disorders.

We’re sure you have questions, so we’ll take you through everything you need to know about sleep hypnosis, so you can decide if this alternative treatment may help you sleep better at night.

What Is Sleep Hypnosis?

Sleep hypnosis is a type of hypnotherapy used to treat patients suffering from sleeping issues or disorders. Hypnotherapy or medical hypnosis is considered a type of mind-body intervention, in which subjects are brought into a relaxed state where they are more susceptible to the power of suggestion.

This allows the hypnotist or medical professional to help the subject overcome an issue — such as bad habits you want to quit, phobias, and even some sleeping disorders like sleep anxiety.

Medical professionals are often able to treat, prevent, or lessen psychological factors that may cause physical symptoms such as hot flashes, some pain syndromes, phobias, addiction, mental illness (depression and anxiety), and skin disorders.

Sleep hypnosis is often used to help alleviate anxiety or fear around sleeping, but can also be performed on individuals who suffer from more generalized sleeping disorders. A 2014 study Verified Source Oxford Academic Research journal published by Oxford University. View source showed that using hypnosis to deepen sleep and improve rest was generally helpful in certain populations (young, healthy females who were open to hypnosis and the power of suggestion were tested).

The concept of hypnosis was founded by James Braid in the 19th century to alleviate the pain his surgical patients experienced. However, like many therapeutic “cures” the idea of a placebo effect — feeling relief as a result of believing a treatment will work — comes into question.

The truth is, we still do not understand everything about how hypnotherapy works, just as there’s much we do not know about sleep. But we do know that sleep hypnosis is more likely to work on individuals who believe this type of therapy can help them.

How Sleep Hypnosis Works

Sleep hypnosis can be difficult to wrap your head around until you understand the process of how the technique works. It’s important to note that there are different types of sleep hypnosis, so we’ll describe the general way this therapy works before separating the different ways sleep hypnosis can be performed.

There are five basic steps Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source in the sleep hypnosis process.

Step 1

First, you’ll start the process by getting comfortable and settling in. This might mean relaxing in a cozy chair, lying flat on your back, or curling up under the covers. Whatever you choose, make sure you’re in a position that will allow you to relax fully.

Step 2

Now, it’s time to let go of any thoughts, anxieties, worries, and tension in your body. You’ll typically be guided to a fully relaxed state by the voice of the hypnotist. To achieve this, your goal is to focus solely on the hypnotist’s voice and not let your mind wander anywhere else.

Step 3

The next stage of the process begins by slowly inducing you into a hypnotic state. During this key step, you should be completely relaxed and may even feel close to sleep. The hypnotist will then tap into your subconscious state.

Step 4

At some point during your deep relaxation, your hypnotist will ask you to focus on your breathing — similar to the way you would in a state of meditation. This is done to help you relax even further.

Step 5

Finally, when the hypnotist is convinced you’re fully relaxed, they’ll guide you to the suggestion they intend to plant in your mind. For instance, if you experience anxiety about sleeping, the hypnotist may suggest that you feel at ease and content before bedtime or guide you to these feelings with soothing imagery and wording.

If it sounds a bit like inception — you’re not wrong. But sleep hypnosis — and hypnosis in general — is far from mind control. Instead, the suggestions made while under hypnosis can actually affect how your brain responds to certain stimuli. And sleep hypnosis seems to work well for some patients and many studies have shown this therapeutic technique can offer powerful results, in those people.

Types of Sleep Hypnosis

While the steps of hypnosis are generally the same, the way it’s performed may vary. Similar to meditation, you can try sleep hypnosis in the comfort of your own home, without having a hypnotist in your room.

While some sleep hypnotists may prefer to go through the hypnosis process in person, others may record themselves leading you through the hypnosis session, so you can play this recording when you’re ready to go to bed.

Recorded hypnosis can still garnish desirable results, but direct hypnosis with an in-person guide is usually more effective since the hypnotist can be sure you’re fully relaxed and responding correctly during each step before proceeding.

During the hypnosis — whether in person or recorded — the hypnotist may try to correct the undesired behavior or response, for instance, fearing falling asleep in a few different ways. Traditional hypnosis techniques are quite literal, instructing you to think of why inadequate sleep is harmful and telling you outright that your fear isn’t real and instead trying to replace it with a feeling of comfort or control.

However, modern hypnosis techniques are a bit more abstract. Using metaphors, which help your brain think creatively and come to its own conclusions, modern hypnotism allows you to problem-solve your way into changing your behavior or replacing your fear and anxiety with other emotions.

Some hypnotists may employ both techniques, opting for modern hypnosis if the traditional method fails.

Can Sleep Hypnosis Actually Solve Sleeping Disorders?

Whether sleep hypnosis actually works or the power of suggestion and placebo effect are to blame is unknown — however, we can say that some patients who underwent sleep hypnosis emerged with decreased or nonexistent sleeping issues. Sleep hypnosis is particularly effective Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source at treating insomnia, parasomnia, and sleep anxiety.

We also know that hypnotic suggestions can alter different parts of the brain — particularly how we respond to pain, emotions, and other sensations. In some patients, hypnotic suggestion alone is enough to alter how intense a sensation is.

There are also many studies showing positive results from sleep hypnosis, like this 2020 study Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source in which 90 women suffering from postmenopausal sleeping disorders experienced decreased symptoms after hypnotherapy. Other studies have had mixed results, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source with only a little over half of the participants reporting better sleep following hypnotism.

More diversity of subjects is needed to understand the potential of sleep hypnosis, as much of the research has focused primarily on women.

Will Sleep Hypnosis Work for Anyone?

While sleep hypnosis can offer relief for sleeping disorders, it won’t work for everyone. Researchers have found that hypnosis is most effective if you believe in the science of hypnosis and if you’re open to the power of suggestion.

This means if you go into a hypnosis session believing that you can’t be “tricked,” you may find you’re right. In order for hypnosis to have the best shot at curing your sleeping disorder, you should approach the technique with an open mind. And, not fighting the direction your hypnotist takes you during the session can also boost the chances of the hypnosis working.

What percentage of people is hypnosis expected to work for? Unfortunately, answering this can be difficult. A 2016 study found that as little as 10% of the population is likely to be highly likely to be hypnotizable. But even if one session doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean that a second or third won’t, especially if you’re able to let go of any doubts about this therapy.

Is Sleep Hypnosis Ethical?

One common concern that comes up when talking about sleep hypnosis is the ethics behind the practice. When you undergo hypnosis, if you’re able to fully let go, you’re essentially putting yourself in the hands of another individual.

Although hypnosis is not mind control, consent must play a role. The hypnotist should fully explain the process and ask for your consent when going over each step.

During the hypnosis, the hypnotist can also phrase your instructions in a way that allows you to consent. For instance, they can say, “If you’re feeling relaxed and comfortable, we’re going to move forward. If not, open your eyes to indicate that we should stop.”

Some might argue that consent in this case could pull the patient out of their hypnotic state, so discussing the best way to give consent before a session is important.

Other Ways to Improve Sleep

Hypnotherapy can make it easier Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source to live with insomnia, but it’s also possible to better manage insomnia with improved sleep hygiene. If you want to try and naturally improve your sleep, here are a few tips to try.

  1. Establish a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
  2. Create a relaxing bedtime routine to signal your body that it’s time to sleep, such as reading a book or taking a warm bath.
  3. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature.
  4. Avoid stimulating activities, such as using electronic devices or exercising, close to bedtime. Blue light exposure is especially important to avoid due to its melatonin suppression.
  5. Limit caffeine intake, especially in the evening.
  6. Avoid heavy meals and excessive fluids before bedtime.
  7. Create a comfortable sleep environment with a supportive mattress and pillows.
  8. Manage stress through relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises.
  9. Get regular exercise for sleep during the day, but not too close to bedtime.

Consider seeking professional help if insomnia persists despite practicing good sleep hygiene. They may have other suggestions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does sleep hypnosis actually work?

Studies do suggest that sleep hypnosis can be highly effective, though naturally, it’s not 100 percent guaranteed. However, more research is needed before it can become a more standard treatment for sleep issues. It may also help for patients to examine their overall sleep hygiene and see if there are other ways they can improve while pursuing hypnotherapy.

Can you self hypnotize yourself?

Yes, it is possible to fall into a hypnotic trance on your own, without the aid of a hypnotherapist or even a recording. You will simply need to find yourself a quiet place in your home where you can expect to remain undisturbed for at least half an hour. This can be accomplished while sitting in a comfy chair or in bed at night.

There are numerous self-hypnosis techniques and visualizations you can try, so it may be best to speak with a professional about what will work best for you.

Does insurance pay for hypnosis?

Yes, medical insurance may cover a significant portion of hypnotherapy costs as long as the treatment is performed by a licensed professional certified in clinical hypnotherapy. Medicare may also cover hypnotherapy in certain cases. The costs of a single hypnotherapy session can vary, though they’re often between $75 to $125. Speaking with a representative of your insurance provider can help you determine how much of that cost you will bear.

Is hypnotherapy available online?

Yes, it is possible to connect with a hypnotherapist online through one of the many video-calling services available. Some patients may worry that this will be less effective than an in-person session. However, there’s no evidence to suggest that online therapy is less effective than in-person therapy. A 2012 review suggests that e-therapy can be just as effective as speaking face-to-face.

When should hypnotherapy not be used?

People who have depression may be at risk when it comes to hypnotherapy. While the practice can help them manage symptoms, it can also considerably worsen them. Individuals with psychotic symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations, are also not considered viable candidates for hypnotherapy.

Hypnotherapy also isn’t considered effective for children under the age of five, due to their relatively short attention span. Adults who have difficulty focusing, a required part of entering the trance-like state, may also find hypnotherapy ineffective.

The Benefits of Sleep Hypnosis

Sleep hypnosis is an alternative treatment method for sleeping disorders that offers many benefits. Not only do many patients see immediate results or improvement in their quality of sleep, but sleep hypnosis can also eliminate the need to take prescription medications or melatonin supplements, which may come with a slew of side effects.

To find out if sleep hypnosis will work for you, talk to your doctor. And remember, while one session is often enough to show results, some people need several sessions before the hypnosis starts working.

About the author

Courtney Johnston is a seasoned freelance writer and editor with over 10 years of experience in publishing digital content. Her areas of expertise include personal finance, small business, and health and wellness. With her work published in reputable outlets such as The Chicago Tribune, MSN, AOL, The Motley Fool, Benzinga, The Balance, Best Reviews, and The Culture Trip, Courtney brings a wealth of knowledge and a strong editorial background to her writing.

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