Sleep Hypnosis for Insomnia

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 19, 2023
3 min read

If you’re like most people, your idea of hypnosis comes from the movies or TV. You might think that hypnotherapists can use hypnosis to control your mind and make you do things you wouldn’t otherwise do. But that’s not how it works.

Hypnosis can put your mind in a hyper-focused state that allows you to accept guidance that could help change your behavior. Typically, people turn to hypnosis to try to change behaviors such as smoking or overeating that they haven’t been able to change otherwise.

It may help people get better sleep, too.

Hypnotherapists use hypnosis to try to improve a number of health conditions. They can also use it to help improve behaviors that are hard to change, including sleeping habits or negative thoughts that may cause insomnia.

Sleep hypnosis doesn’t put you to sleep during the session. Instead, the aim is to change negative attitudes that could be keeping you awake or prompt you to adopt new habits to help you sleep. The goal is for you to sleep better after therapy is complete.

When you are successfully under hypnosis, your brain activity changes and makes you more open to new ideas or recommendations. Suggestions on how to sleep better -- tips that you may have dismissed before -- may sink in during hypnosis. Sleep hypnosis could also help other therapies for sleep, such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, work better.

In hypnosis, the hypnotherapist directs your attention to a specific object or maybe to your breathing. This helps you shift into the proper state of focus for hypnosis. The therapist might then ask you to visualize an image to help deepen your focus.

Once you reach a deeply focused state, the hypnotherapist may offer guidance tailored to your specific problem. The suggestion could simply be, “Get deeper, more restorative sleep.” Or, the therapist might say, “Commit to an earlier bedtime every night.”

After the hypnotherapist offers the tailored suggestions, they will guide you back to a fully alert state.

Hypnosis doesn’t work for everyone. Research shows that about 1 in 7 people are “highly hypnotizable.” They slip into deep focus with relative ease. On the flip side, 1 in 3 seem to be “hypnosis resistant.” You just can’t hypnotize them, so they are unlikely to get benefits from this type of therapy.

Everyone else falls somewhere in between these two extremes. If you’re in this group, hypnosis may be worth a try.

If you respond to hypnosis at all, your results will depend on the purpose of the hypnosis and how the therapist conducts the session. It may take several sessions to see the benefits.

As for sleep hypnosis in particular, there’s very little data on its effects. The studies that have been done include relatively few people.

In one small study of about 70 young women, hypnosis that included the suggestion to “sleep deeper” resulted in deeper sleep and seemed to cause the women to fall asleep faster than those who didn’t have hypnosis. It may also help ease the depression and anxiety that often go along with insomnia.

In a review of numerous small studies of hypnosis for insomnia and other sleep problems, researchers concluded that hypnosis looks promising, but that more research is necessary to be sure of its benefits. Another review noted that the “placebo effect” -- the idea that a therapy works simply because you believe it will work -- is strong in hypnosis.

If you want to give it a try, studies suggest that serious side effects are rare and it’s safe for most people. One exception may be people with certain mental health conditions. If you have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), your doctor may suggest you work with a professional who has specific experience using hypnosis with people who have PTSD.

If you get benefits from hypnosis, keep track of your sleep and how you feel during the day. If problems start to creep up again, talk to your doctor. You may benefit from another hypnotherapy “booster” session. Or your doctor may have other suggestions.