Hypnotic techniques to face insomnia

Being hypnosis a state in which the subject’s attention is extremely focused, it may seem paradoxical to use such technique to allow those who need it to rest better, both in terms of global duration of sleep and of reduction of nocturnal awakenings. Actually, thanks to the possibility to induce states of physical and psychological relaxation and to reduce physiological activation that is often present when we are worried about something, hypnosis and hypnotherapy can be effectively used to resolve insomnia1. Furthermore, we usually consider insomnia just as a condition that influences the quality o sleep and that, because of the insufficient duration or quality of sleep, has consequences on well-being and on the quality of life of those who suffer from it. However, we must consider that research has observed in insomniac subjects a higher level of global activation (arousal) and a reactivity to stressful stimuli that is higher than what has been observed in general population2. These are the individuals who seem more at risk of developing chronic insomnia and that’s why, by using hypnosis to regulate this arousal, such development can be prevented.
Despite the fact that scientific research on the topic is mostly constituted by single case or small samples studies, some evidences of the effectiveness of hypnosis for the treatment of insomnia have been produced. An example is constituted by a study conducted at the University of Dallas3 in which a group of patients who suffered from chronic insomnia since many years participated to 6 hypnotic sessions. Results show that, especially in subjects in whom insomnia is not caused by other pathologies, hypnosis allows patients to rest better reducing nocturnal awakenings and limiting episodes of early awakenings. This kind of techniques can be also associated to the practice of self-hypnosis to stabilize and extend results4.
Such kinds of studies show us that hypnotherapy can directly target specific mechanisms of insomnia, but another important advantage of this technique is the fact that it can act on the unconscious psychological factors that can cause itibid..
Concerning this topic, it can be interesting to cite a study conducted on a pediatric sample5. In school age children insomnia is quite widespread and it rarely presents itself as a stand-alone problem; more frequently it is generated by stress, fears or difficulties in socializing. A group of researchers from New York decided to investigate the effects of hypnosis in the treatment of insomnia in a group of 84 children: after being informed about the nature and objectives of the study, they were invited to a first hypnotic session, followed by others, if necessary.
Results clearly showed that the wide majority of subjects, despite the fact that they were suffering from insomnia since approximately three years, reported improvements in many aspects of their quality of sleep and achieving complete remission in many cases. Patients rarely required more that two sessions and at the end of the study they reported a shorter latency of sleep onset and a reduction of nocturnal and early awakenings.
In commenting these results the authors highlight that the fact the causes at the basis of insomnia in children are not qualitatively different from those that characterize adult insomnia, confirming that hypnotherapy aimed to improve sleep can be effective in general population.
Research exploring the role of self hypnosis and hypnosis in the treatment of insomnia is still in development, but both single case or small sample studies and the more rigorous ones report promising results obtained in a shorter time compared to other strategies.
[1] Beng-Yeong Ng, Tih-Shih Lee (2008). Hypnotherapy for Sleep Disorders, Annals Academy of Medicine of Singapore; 37:683-8.
[1] Drake CL, Roehrs T, Roth T. (2003). Insomnia causes, consequences, and therapeutics: an overview. Depression and Anxiety;18:163-76.
[1] Becker, P.M. (1993).Chronic Insomnia: Outcome of Hypnotherapeutic Intervention in Six Cases. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis; 36, 2; 98-105.
[1] Hammond DC. (1990). Handbook of Hypnotic Suggestions and Metaphors.
New York: W. W. Norton,:220-1.
[1] Anbar, R.D., Slothower, M. (2006). Hypnosis for treatment of insomnia in school-age children: a retrospective chart review. BMC Pediatrics 2006, 6:23.