How Sleep Hypnosis Calms Overactive Minds Towards Dreamland

The power of suggestion can help your brain relax and transition away from anxious thoughts. Here are videos and tricks to try for yourself.

Man in green shirt listening to audio through headphones while sitting on his bed
Garett Mizunaka / Unsplash

The clock shows that it’s way past your bedtime, yet your brain is thinking through all the things you need to do in the morning. While some people who take five minutes to journal before bed can fall asleep faster, some of us need a bit more help with calming the mind and drifting off to sleep.

Thanks to every TV show that featured someone being hypnotized, you probably think of hypnosis as watching a pocket watch swing back and forth on a chain. But leaning into the power of suggestion is actually more nuanced and accessible than that. While a pair of good, noise-cancelling earbuds are recommended, there are plenty of additional tools to help you access sleep hypnosis and professional hypnotherapists — right from your home.

How You Can Try Hypnotism for Sleep at Home

Already know that you want to give sleep hypnosis a try? Here are some of the best sleep hypnosis videos, podcasts and recordings. Keep reading below for more details on why sleep hypnosis could be the trick to better sleep and cooler dreams.

YouTube Videos

If you’ve tried sleep affirmations and found them soothing, guided sleep-hypnosis videos and podcasts may be right for you. A simple (and free) option is to try some online sleep-hypnosis videos, which can be found on outlets like YouTube, Amazon’s Fire Stick, and Audible. Hypnosis-for-sleep podcasts can be found on iTunes, Spotify playlists, and other platforms, including Clubhouse audio.

Two popular online sleep hypnotherapists include Michael Sealey (1.4 million followers on YouTube) and Jason Stephenson (2.2 million followers on YouTube). Each channel offers a variety of videos to support sleep, with specific topics such as “detachment from overthinking” (a sleep hypnosis for anxiety) or “a sleep meditation for a calm body and mind.”

Most sleep-hypnosis videos last between 30 and 90 minutes, although you may drift off long before they’re over.

Podcasts and Apps

Calm and Headspace are two popular apps with sleep meditations and an additional sleep-hypnosis-like offering called “Sleepcasts” (on Headspace) or “Sleep Stories” (on Calm). While those are not labelled as hypnosis, they offer similar mechanisms to induce sleep: physical relaxation techniques, guided imagery, and hypnotic suggestions.

There are many other sleep-inducing podcasts and bedtime-story apps that use hypnotic methods. For instance, Get Sleepy offers a delicious combination of meditation and stories woven together with excellent narrators.

Audio apps

For those of you who prefer a system you can purchase and download, Audible has several options, including a bundle package, so you can use hypnosis to hit other concerns like productivity motivation. (Why stop at sleep?) Narrated by the soothing voice of Melissa Sheldon, the bundle is one of the most popular tools to download.

What is Sleep Hypnosis and What Can I Expect?

In general, hypnosis is a therapeutic technique involving focused attention as well as suggestion to help people change their behaviors and thoughts. Hypnosis can be helpful for a range of conditions and health needs. When it’s used for sleep, it’s called sleep hypnosis.

Hypnotherapist visits and online sleep-hypnosis videos or audio recordings will likely include some of these techniques:

  • A guide who has a soothing tone of voice  
  • Physical prompts, like releasing muscle tension by letting go or relaxing muscles 
  • Mental body scans  
  • Deep breaths 
  • Metaphors or imagery, such as picturing beautiful places  
  • Imagining using an internal “dial” to reduce worries and concerns 

When you work with a hypnotherapist in person, they should also clearly outline what to expect and provide the opportunity for you to ask questions and give informed consent before your session.

How Does Hypnosis for Sleep Work?

Hypnosis helps your brain bypass consciousness.

Dr. David Spiegel, professor and associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, led a team of experts in analyzing how hypnosis works in 2016.

“Hypnosis is the oldest Western form of psychotherapy, but it’s been tarred with the brush of dangling watches and purple capes,” said Spiegel in an article by the Stanford Medicine News Center, emphasizing that the practice is grounded in science. “In fact, it’s a very powerful means of changing the way we use our minds to control perception and our bodies.”

What Spiegel’s team discovered is that hypnosis increases activity and connectivity in some areas of the brain and decreases it in others, which leads to the brain being able to take suggestions without necessarily focusing on them. Some hypnotherapists refer to it as a “bypass” of the conscious part of our brain. The Stanford researchers were able to use MRIs to get much more specific with how it’s used.

It also helps your brain transition away from analytical thinking.

What imagery will work better for you in hypnosis depends on your own taste, imagination, and “internal belief system,” according to hypnotherapist Jessica Levine, Ph.D.

Levine has been helping people manage anxiety, insomnia, and physical pain for over 15 years in Northern California. Levine says people often have trouble relaxing and getting to sleep because of circular thinking or racing thoughts — you know, all those thoughts that go around and around in your head, rehashing the day’s events and tomorrow’s to-dos as soon as the lights are out?

“One way hypnosis helps with sleep is by taking you from a state of analytical thinking to one of visual imagining, which primes the brain to dream,” says Levine.

For instance, Levine has her clients play a mental game of visualizing postcards from beautiful places they’ve visited or always wanted to go. This imagination exercise helps access a more playful part of the brain and sends the message that it’s time to let go of the day’s worries and slip into sleep, according to Levine. Images are also most powerful when they emerge from the clients’ own imaginations, so instead of providing suggestions, Levine helps clients develop their own scripts under hypnosis.

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Can Hypnosis Improve Sleep Quality?

It’s not definitive, but research suggests that hypnosis can improve sleep for most people.

For example, researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland studied the use of hypnotic suggestions to increase people’s slow wave sleep (another term for deep sleep). It's important to get sufficient deep sleep — the phase of sleep when your muscles relax and your brain waves, heartbeat, and breathing become slower than in other sleep stages — to help the brain rest and recover. Deep sleep allows the brain to store new memories, develop insightful thinking, and enhance creativity.

Women in the Swiss study listened to a tape with either “hypnotic suggestions” or control audio before being monitored during naps. The study found that after listening to the hypnotic tape, the women’s deep slow-wave sleep increased by 81% — and overall time spent awake decreased by 67%.

In 2018, another group of researchers reviewed 139 studies of hypnosis that included sleep as a factor. They reported in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine that hypnosis for sleep problems is “a promising treatment,” but stronger studies into its benefits were needed.

Interested In Working Directly With a Sleep Hypnotherapist?

If a guided sleep hypnosis isn’t working for you, you might want to visit a hypnotherapist in person (or virtually) for a live session.

“A hypnotherapist can work with your personal belief system and imagination in order to address challenges like chronic pain, a specific anxiety, or even adjusting to an apnea machine,” says Levine. Clients are also given a recording of the session to practice with at home.

To find a hypnotherapist near you, visit the directory from the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.

Are There Downsides or Risks to Using Hypnosis?

According to Levine, hypnosis is not recommended for people with severe mental illness and delusions. Most qualified hypnotists also start their tapes with a few caveats: Don’t listen to hypnosis while driving or operating machinery, and don’t consider this as a substitute for medical care. If you’ve been diagnosed with or suspect you have a sleep disorder, talk to a doctor for their treatment advice.

Sleep hypnosis may not be the ideal solution for everyone. If you think that a sleep disorder or anxiety disorder may be causing your lack of shut-eye, it’s important to talk to your doctor so that you can get the most effective treatment.

Generally, though, hypnosis for sleep comes with few to no harmful effects, making it worth the effort when you’re lying wide-eyed. If home-based options like apps, videos, and podcasts aren’t working for you, consider working one-on-one with a professional or turning to other methods that may help you fall asleep, stay asleep, and get better sleep.

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