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

It’s way past your bedtime and yet your brain is racing. For those who have tried — and enjoyed — guided sleep meditation, affirmations, and even progressive muscle relaxation, hypnosis could be your answer. Playing an audio clip as you settle for the night could be a beneficial way to soothe the anxious mind.

Leaning into the power of suggestion is also more nuanced and accessible than what you've seen on TV. Guided sleep hypnosis only requires a pair of good, noise-cancelling earbuds and an open mind. We talked to professionals about what you need to know about sleep hypnosis for anxiety, sleep, and relaxation.

Trying sleep hypnosis at home

Already know that you want to give sleep hypnosis a try? Here are some of the best guided sleep hypnosis videos, podcasts, and recordings.

Sleep hypnosis videos

If you’ve tried sleep affirmations and found them soothing, a simple (and free) option is to try some online sleep-hypnosis videos. Most sleep-hypnosis videos last between 30 and 90 minutes, although you may drift off long before they’re over.

You can find videos on outlets like YouTube, Amazon’s Fire Stick, and Audible.

Two popular online sleep hypnotherapists include Michael Sealey and Jason Stephenson. Their channel offers a variety of videos to support sleep and anxiety.

Sleep hypnosis podcasts and audio apps

Hypnosis for sleep podcasts can be found on iTunes, Spotify playlists, and other platforms.

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

For bedtime story apps that use hypnotic methods, there's Get Sleepy, which weaves meditation and stories together. If you prefer purchasing and downloading your audio, Audible has several options, including a bundle package.

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What is sleep hypnosis and what can I expect?

Hypnosis is a therapeutic technique involving focused attention and suggestion to guide people's thought patterns. The hope is to eventually change behaviors and thoughts. When it’s used for sleep, it’s called sleep hypnosis but hypnosis can be helpful for a range of mental health needs.

A hypnosis experience will likely include:

  • 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 outline what to expect, provide the opportunity for you to ask questions, and give informed consent before your session.

How does hypnosis for sleep work?

In 2018, a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine concluded that sleep hypnosis could be “a promising treatment,” but stronger studies into its benefits were needed. However, if you find hypnosis working for your sleep, these reasons may be why:

1. Hypnosis helps your brain bypass consciousness

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

Spiegel’s team discovered that hypnosis 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.

2. It helps your brain transition away from analytical thinking

According to Jessica Levine, Ph.D., people often have trouble relaxing and getting to sleep because of circular thinking, or racing thoughts. “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, who has treated patients with insomnia, anxiety, and physical pain for over 15 years.

Levine has her clients play a mental game of visualizing postcards from beautiful places they’ve visited or always wanted to go. This 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 hypnosis scripts.

3. It may help increasing quality of deep sleep

It’s not definitive, but research suggests that hypnosis may improve time in deep sleep, also known as slow wave sleep. While deep sleep is primarily about physical restoration, it also allows the brain to store new memories, develop insightful thinking, and enhance creativity.

Researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland found that those who listened to the hypnotic tape experienced an increase in slow-wave sleep by 81% — while overall time spent awake decreased by 67%.

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
  • 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.

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.

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.