Written by: Juliann Scholl
Updated February 26, 2021
Despite how hypnosis is usually depicted in movies and stage shows, the mental state isn’t a form of mind control. Instead, hypnosis is a psychological state of focused attention (1) that can be used to improve people’s lives. Clinicians that use hypnosis — often called hypnotherapists — assert that this type of focused attention facilitates physical and psychological change.
In the mid-19th century, an English physician coined the term “hypnosis” (2) after Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep. Today, hypnosis is being used to treat a variety of health conditions (3), including irritable bowel syndrome, pain, anxiety, and even menopause-related hot flashes.
Can Hypnosis Help You Sleep?
Considering that almost one-third of Americans receive less than six hours of sleep each night (4), it’s natural to wonder if hypnosis may be a helpful strategy for improving sleep. In some studies, sleep hypnosis has been shown to benefit people with insomnia (5) and increase slow-wave sleep (6), which is a deep stage of sleep.
As an approach to treating insomnia, hypnotherapists induce hypnosis and deliver instructions for relaxation, improved sleep hygiene, or the creation of a bedtime ritual. Sleep hygiene instructions promote rest by focusing on environmental and lifestyle changes for better sleep.
Hypnotherapy is also used for addressing nightmares, sleep terrors, and parasomnias, like sleepwalking. Although hypnosis is a promising treatment for sleep disorders (7), larger and more rigorous studies are still needed. Fortunately, existing research offers hope, suggesting that hypnosis may be effective, easily customizable to different sleep complaints, and associated with very few side effects.
How Does Hypnotherapy work?
Although hypnosis is effective for many health conditions, researchers are still working to understand exactly how hypnosis affects the brain. Because of these unanswered questions, it’s still unclear exactly how hypnosis produces its beneficial effects.
Hypnotherapy can look different depending on how it’s delivered and the goals of treatment. Commonly, a hypnotic treatment has several common components (8):
- Informed Consent: Working with a hypnotherapist begins with a conversation to establish a relationship, discuss the risks and benefits of hypnosis, and gain the client’s consent to proceed.
- Hypnotic Induction: When the procedure begins, the hypnotherapist suggests that patients experience mental and physical relaxation. This step often involves focusing on calming mental images.
- Deepening Procedure: Once a patient is relaxed, the hypnotic state is deepened. This step may involve the hypnotherapist suggesting the patient envision a metaphor, like imagining oneself descending a staircase.
- Delivering Suggestions: After a patient is hypnotized, suggestions are made specific to the goals of treatment.
- Ending Treatment: Once suggestions are given, the patient is gently guided out of the state of hypnosis. The hypnotherapist may do this by asking the patient to slowly feel more alert and awake.
How long it takes to see results from hypnotherapy can vary based on the goals of treatment and how the treatment is delivered. While some studies have researched the effects of just one session, others have looked at the effects of several sessions over time.
What is Self-Hypnosis?
Self-hypnosis describes when patients learn to hypnotize themselves (9). Techniques for self-hypnosis may be learned from a trained hypnotherapist, hypnotherapy videos, or even a hypnotherapy application on a smartphone. Similar to a session with a hypnotherapist, self-hypnosis often involves inducing a hypnotic state through focused attention and imagery, deepening hypnosis, and listening to suggestions or phrases that target a person’s symptoms.
Smartphone-based applications are a new way to access hypnosis. These applications offer instructions, videos, or audio recordings for inducing self-hypnosis. While most hypnosis apps are not evidence-based and focus on weight loss, increasing self-esteem, and stress reduction (10), preliminary research suggests that hypnosis apps for sleep may offer some benefit (11).
Is Hypnosis Right For Me?
Although hypnosis is associated with few side effects, it’s important to remember that no treatment comes without risk. Professionals have reported that some patients experience short-term side effects (12), such as dizziness, confusion, and panic attacks. Hypnosis may not be the right fit for people with some types of mental health conditions.
Not everyone responds to hypnosis in the same way. Research suggests that whether or not a person benefits from hypnosis may depend on biological, psychological, and social factors (13). These factors include a person’s expectations, motivation, and the strength of the relationship between the patient and the hypnotherapist.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to try hypnosis is personal. If you’re not sure if this mind-body approach is right for you, consider consulting with a professional. Fortunately, many healthcare professionals, including doctors, psychologists, and mental health counselors, are trained and certified in the use of hypnosis.
- https://www.asch.net/Public/GeneralInfoonHypnosis/GeneralInfoTemplate.aspx Accessed February 24, 2021.
- https://www.britannica.com/science/hypnosis Accessed February 24, 2021.
- https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/hypnosis Accessed February 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22534760/ Accessed February 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18797562/ Accessed February 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24882909/ Accessed February 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29198290/ Accessed February 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25267941/ Accessed February 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20799121/ Accessed February 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23957263/ Accessed February 24, 2021.
- https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-01464-003 Accessed February 24, 2021.
- https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ch.207 Accessed February 24, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25365127/ Accessed February 24, 2021.