Hypnosis for Treatment of Insomnia

Hypnosis is promoted as a treatment for a host of discomforts, usually discomforts with at least some connection to the mind. You can almost certainly find a hypnotist near you who will attempt to help you sleep better. Although most incidences of insomnia have a physical cause, there is a psychological component present much of the time, too. This is shown by the success of cognitive behavioral therapy in treatment of insomnia. It is not unreasonable that hypnosis could help some insomniacs, but systematic evidence is not convincing that it is reliable. The fact that hypnotists have little oversight and scant professional standards makes going to a hypnotist a dodgy proposition. There are legitimate psychologists who practice hypnosis, also called hypnotherapy, and we do not mean to imply it is snake oil, but the consumer/patient would do well to use extra scrutiny in seeking out and continuing hypnosis for sleep problems.

Hypnotherapy is considered a type of complementary medicine and hence raises some eyebrows, although some established medical doctors and scientists are not opposed to use of hypnosis.  (The Mayo Clinic offers hypnosis for insomnia, http://www.mayoclinic.org/hypnosis/)

Hypnosis can also be useful as part of a regimen for children, especially as no medications have been approved by the FDA for pediatric insomnia.  Given how common insomnia can be in young children and the paucity of child-specific modalities, any options are typically welcome by the medical community


Let's look at what formal investigations have found.

A study of hypnosis for school-age children concluded hypnosis could be a viable part of an address of insomnia. Elementary school kids are often afraid of going to sleep.

Noting that most childhood insomnia is secondary insomnia and hence amenable to addressing by non-biological factors, the authors recommend therapists consider hypnosis. Because children tend to undergo hypnosis more readily than adults, there is a special attraction.

Much of the work with children and hypnosis also includes other behavioral therapy, including stimulus control therapy and sleep restriction.

A 2007 literature survey found scant evidence either way on the effectiveness of hypnosis in treatment of sleep disorders.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17558719

The appeal of hypnosis and its use for Sleep Disorders

The appeals of hypnosis are obvious: no drugs (with their known and unknown side effects), a less “medical” feel to treatment,  

Although hypnotists sometimes describe their subjects as being “asleep” this state is clearly not real sleep.  EEG readings show the hypnotized person is waking.

Hypnotists typically describe people as having different susceptibilities to hypnosis – some "go under" more deeply and some respond to suggestion more readily than others.

Hypnotherapy is also used for such medical problems as irritable bowel syndrome and pain as well as desired behavior changes such as smoking cessation and eating patterns.

Hypnosis has been described as being able to "amplify whatever it is about therapy that makes it therapeutic" so it seems at least plausible that a skilled practitioner of cognitive hehavioral therapy or sleep restriction therapy might be able to work hypnosis into the regimen.

Hypnotherapy has also been employed to address parasomnias, including head and body rocking, enuresis.and sleepwalking.

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