Film, TV shows, and other pop culture mediums have a history of portraying hypnosis as a form of mind control—which has led to a lot of myths, misconceptions, and fear around the practice.
But the truth is, hypnosis is actually a well-researched modality and has the potential to treat a variety of conditions—including sleep.
Hypnosis for sleep could be a helpful tool for people that are struggling to get the rest they need to feel their best. But what is sleep hypnosis? Can hypnosis help with sleep problems? And how can you use sleep hypnosis to get better sleep?
What is sleep hypnosis?
Sleep hypnosis is a practice during which a practitioner guides the participant into a state of deep relaxation and focused concentration using a variety of verbal, audio, and breathing cues.
During this state of relaxation and concentration, participants are generally in a more suggestible state—which allows the practitioner to help them identify and change thoughts and behaviors that may be preventing them from getting the sleep they crave.
“During a session, the therapist will slowly guide [the participant] through each stage of relaxation and hypnosis until they are ready to focus on altering their behaviors and thoughts relating to their sleep issues,” says Chelsie Rohrscheib, PhD, neuroscientist and head sleep expert at Wesper.
Sleep hypnosis sessions are led by trained professionals. They typically last anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes per session and are often customized based on the individual’s specific needs, challenges, and goals.
“A professional trained in hypnotherapy will customize suggestions that focus on changing the key behaviors and thoughts that are leading to poor sleep,” says Rohrscheib.
Does sleep hypnosis work?
The biggest question surrounding sleep hypnosis is, of course—does it work?
And the answer? It might. There’s definitely promising research showing that hypnotherapy could be an effective treatment for sleep issues, including insomnia.
“Hypnosis may be helpful in treating insomnia, specifically targeting some of the primary reasons that make it difficult for people to fall asleep, such as stress, an overactive mind at bedtime, and poor sleep habits,” says Rohrscheib.
Because hypnosis can also be used to identify, challenge, and change unhelpful or limiting thought patterns, hypnosis may also be to help a person shift their mindset around sleep—which, in turn, can help them fall asleep more easily, get higher-quality sleep, and feel better and more well-rested during the day.
“Hypnosis can help a person overcome mental barriers…by making them more open to thoughts and suggestions without inducing stress,” says Rohrscheib. “For example, hypnosis can help you let go of the constant worrying about whether you are getting enough sleep, which reduces sleep anxiety at bedtime and can actually help you fall asleep faster. For individuals who struggle with racing thoughts before bed, hypnosis can also help you train your brain to relax and slow down when you’re trying to sleep.”
Sleep hypnosis may also help people shift behaviors that are preventing them from getting the sleep they need.
“Hypnosis is also an excellent way to change habits and behaviors faster,” says Rohrscheib. “If you have poor sleep hygiene habits, such as drinking too much coffee during the day or using your cell phone before bed, hypnosis can help you kick those habits faster.”
One thing to note? If you do decide to explore sleep hypnosis, it’s important to do so with a licensed, trained professional (no sleep hypnosis YouTube videos). “Anyone who would like to try sleep hypnosis should work with a health professional that is trained in hypnotherapy,” says Rohrscheib.
Is sleep hypnosis dangerous?
Is sleep hypnosis dangerous? The research points to no.
A 2018 review of sleep hypnosis studies from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that more than half (58.3%) of the studies reviewed showed hypnosis positively impacting sleep—and there was little evidence of any adverse effects.
Similarly, another study from 2014 shows that sleep hypnosis could improve the quality and duration of slow-wave sleep (aka deep sleep)—and do so with fewer potential side effects than other interventions, like sleep medications.
As for the myth that hypnosis puts people at risk for some sort of mind control? The research just doesn’t support it. Studies show that even though people may be more suggestible while under hypnosis, they still have agency and control over their own decisions.
That said, just because hypnosis isn’t generally dangerous doesn’t mean it doesn’t carry any risks—particularly for certain populations, like people with mental health or substance use disorders.
“Anything that affects the brain can cause neurological side effects,” notes Rohrscheib. “While rare, hypnosis may cause effects similar to taking psychotropic drugs such as anxiety, confusion, hallucination, and nausea. People with mental health conditions or those who take drugs may be at a higher risk for these side effects.”
There’s also the real risk that sleep hypnosis just might not work for you. (Based on his research, which studied the brains of people who can be hypnotized vs. people who can’t, David Spiegel, MD, researcher and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, estimates that one-quarter of patients can’t be hypnotized.)
And if you invest the time and resources into sleep hypnosis, only to find that it doesn’t yield any real results? It can feel like a major blow—both to your morale and your bank account.
“Working with a hypnotherapist may be expensive…[and] If hypnosis doesn’t work for you, it may add to your stress and frustration, leading to worse sleep,” says Rohrscheib.
What’s the difference between sleep meditation and sleep hypnosis?
Sleep meditation is an exercise to help relax the mind and body; once they’re more relaxed, many people find it easier to fall and stay asleep. Sleep hypnosis, on the other hand, is about putting the body into an extremely relaxed, suggestible state—and then leveraging that state to identify and change thoughts, behaviors, or patterns that could be blocking the person from getting high-quality rest.
How long is sleep hypnosis?
While session lengths will vary by person and practitioner, most sleep hypnosis sessions last between 30 and 90 minutes.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)—and could it be the right treatment for your sleep issues? Learn more about CBT-I and whether it can help you sleep better.