Hypnotherapy and Sleep
The use of hypnotherapy to help people’s sleep patterns is becoming more and more common. Because of shift work and the general demands that modern society makes on people in terms of constant stimulation whether through entertainment, drugs (legal or illegal), the bombardment of sound and noise, the excessive use of alcohol – which is known to disturb sleep patterns all this has led to our 24/7 world in which it is even thought by some that “sleep is for wimps.” A pub quiz question could be “Who first said, “Sleep is for wimps?”. What is certain is that there is no overall agreement as to how much sleep we really need to function properly. It is thought, though, that one out of every four people does not get enough sleep.
How much sleep is really needed?
When I treat people for sleep problems I ask them how much sleep they need to function properly. The range I’ve come across is from 2 to 15 hours. A female client of mine said she needed fifteen hours a night. She was a nurse so it was a bit of a puzzle how she could get that much sleep under the circumstances. That was part of the problem as she was lacking energy from “lack of sleep”. She was a physical embodiment of her need for excessive sleep. She had very pale skin and very fair blonde hair and seemed, in a way, not quite of this world. At the other extreme I have even heard about an hypnotherapist in London who claims she only needs one hour sleep per night because, in the daytime, she makes up for it by going into an hypnotic state when she is treating her clients! I know the feeling, in a modified way, because I have done it myself when I’ve felt tired and it has worked wonders. So the problem of insomnia is a relative thing depending on how much sleep people think they need. Generally, six to eight hours is a good, healthy average though it also depends on the quality of the sleep.
Underlying causes of insomnia
If it is truly insomnia that the person suffers from then it should be looked upon as symptom, not a condition. The underlying causes need to be diagnosed. This could be depression, anxiety, excessive stress, thyroid problems, painful conditions such as arthritis. Hypnosis then would be used to treat these conditions rather than a direct approach on the insomnia as such. If the person is suffering from a painful condition then hypnosis would be used for pain control. If it is psychologically based then the treatment would be based on dealing with thoughts which lead to sleeplessness, whether these thoughts are due to depression, anxiety, stress, illness, etc., or some combination of these. Appropriate suggestions would be made to counteract these unhelpful thoughts and replace them with more constructive ones.
I frequently have clients who find it difficult to sleep because they are suffering from stress and anxiety and then they become even more stressed and anxious because they are not getting enough sleep. This forms a vicious circle that can get worse and worse. A visit to the doctor leads to sleeping pills being prescribed, but there are doctors now who don’t recommend that because the answer is that it is the stress and anxiety that needs to be dealt with not the lack of sleep as such. If the person can learn to relax and deal with anxiety and stress more effectively then it will follow that sleep will come more naturally.
Anxiety over loss of sleep is worse than actually losing the sleep! Usually the amount of sleep a person gets averages out over a week or two. If the person becomes unduly anxious about some loss of sleep on a particular night then it leads to more nights being disturbed than would be otherwise the case. I point out that during WW II most people had very disturbed sleep for obvious reasons and had to get by on as little as three hours a night. As undesirable as that it is also the case that it did not have any long term effects on most people. In fact, in wartime Britain there was actually less mental illness than there is in peacetime. Research shows that tiredness as such does not cause any physical damage to the person although they obviously have to be very careful when driving or operating machines as concentration is affected.
The use of hypnotherapy to promote deeper more satisfying sleep
If the problem is straightforward and you have problems sleeping because of shift work then there are several things which can be done. You could actually find a job where the hours are regular and then use hypnotherapy to suggest that as time passes the mind will remember again the times when you slept well. The suggestion is then made that this memory of sleeping well is still within your mind and that the pattern of sleeping well will be re-established as the hypnosis becomes more and more effective through repetition.
If you have no choice but to continue working shifts then the suggestions would deal with that problem. This is more problematical because shift patterns vary. If they are continuous nights then the pattern is to get the mind used to sleeping during the day. If the shift patterns are rotated from morning to afternoons to evenings/nights or in the opposite direction then physical factors come into play. The body needs several weeks to adapt to major shifts in sleep patterns so if the shift work rotates from morning to afternoons and evenings/nights too rapidly then sleep is a problem and hypnosis has limited power in that situation. If the shift pattern actually goes against the clock from evening/nights to afternoons to mornings then hypnosis has even less power to help. This is because the body finds it harder to adapt going against the clock in shifts of sleep patterns compared with shifting clockwise.
If medication is prescribed to help you to sleep, then hypnosis can be used to suggest that the subconscious mind will use the medication, on a temporary basis, to the best of its ability to make the drug work in a powerful way to give deep, refreshing sleep. Further it could be programmed to accept that when off the medication the subconscious mind will not forget how the drug worked on the mind, as well as the body, to give a deep refreshing sleep and that in that way it will continue to produce the therapeutic effects of the medication even when the medication is not being used any more.
It is possible to use hypnosis to promote deeper sleep and to counteract broken sleep. Again this can be done by use of a recording or self-hypnosis and through repetition the mind begins to react to suggestions for relaxation and sleeping through the psychological process of conditioning. This means that the mind begins to associate the process of hypnosis with sleep itself. A distraction technique can be used too whereby thoughts, images, feelings are brought into the mind that are the opposite to the thoughts, image and feelings that are keeping the person awake. For example, this could be imagining oneself on a desert island in the shade of a tree. Then imagining further that the problems of the day can be put into a wooden box, put on the sea and then just allow the problems to drift away until they can be dealt with the next day. This is paralleled with the idea of the tide bringing back the box so the troubles can be dealt with appropriately during the day.