Insomnia: How Hypnosis Therapy Can Help
By David Quigley
It seems that every other ad on television these days is for some form of sleeping pill. So many people I meet in my practice are either suffering serious sleep problems or are dependent on some kind of pharmaceutical sleep aid. In this article I will explain why insomnia is an epidemic in our society today and how we can achieve easy and comfortable sleep using hypnosis and other behavioral approaches, while reducing our dependence on pharmaceutical drugs. Much of this information is already known by sleep specialists in the medical world, and some is unique to the world of hypnotherapy. All of these methods can help you to achieve drug free and easy sleep if practiced with dedication.
First, talk to your physician. Many sleep problems are the result of physical illnesses or conditions that should be addressed by medical science. If your doctor can find no clear medical cause for your condition, he may recommend some sleep medication for simple insomnia. These new medications are very effective and compared to earlier sedatives, have relatively few side effects. But he will probably warn you that sleep aids are by nature habit forming. Once you begin to depend on the ease with which these drugs help you relax and let go…well, you depend on them. While you and your doctor may need these drugs for awhile there are things you can start doing now to help you move past the dependence on medication.
Insomnia has probably affected all human beings in every culture throughout history. Anxieties about money or family, grief over a lost love, even the excitement of romance or a pending marriage, these kind of challenges have kept people awake an occasional night for centuries. But for most of our evolution as a species insomnia has been an occasional problem, not a vast epidemic. That is because our brains were designed to slow down when darkness descends. The pineal gland, a light sensitive organ in the center of the inner brain where our sleep center is located, told us according to the fading light that it was time to rest. Also at night, the world around us slowed down, became quiet, and we were, if not soothed into sleep, at least bored enough with the quiet sound of crickets and the night wind to fall asleep rather easily most nights. Even the dim light provided by a fire pit or oil lamp was certainly not enough light to keep us awake very long.
But in our technologically advanced society we can turn on bright lights…hundreds of candle power!...all night long if we wish. Plus we can watch TV, enjoy the stimulations of the computer, and even communicate with friends all night long if we wish. These modern habits are bound to disturb our sleeping patterns in ways that our human instincts were never trained to manage. By living this “night life” we are challenging if not destroying the natural rhythms that lead to easy and restful sleep. And don’t forget the horrors of jet lag, swing shifts, noisy night owl neighbors and other challenges to the rhythm of sleep.
Also, in past centuries, most of us were physically active most of the day. Whether we were hunting mammoths in the snow, planting the fields, or milking the cows, these intense physical activities left us tired at the end of each day, and ready to sleep. Now with many of our lives given over almost completely to mental activities and a sedentary life, we no longer experience the peaceful and relaxed feeling that comes from a day spent in simple toil or rigorous adventure. Instead we attempt to go to sleep with our brains wired to a day of intense mental stimulation and our bodies restless with the unmet need for physical activity.
Also, in ancient times the attack of a wild beast aroused our adrenaline, but then we fought or we ran, as hard as we could, and we exhausted our bodies. Our current addiction in the evenings to violent and sexually explicit entertainments, an attempt I believe to recapture the physical excitement of our primordial past, often leaves us instead at the end of the evening filled with adrenaline and with no chance to run it off. Given all of these factors, it is no wonder insomnia is epidemic in our society.
In order to recapture the peaceful sleep of our ancestors, perhaps we could return to the simple life they lived. Well, that idea won’t work for most of us. So instead, let us at least find a way to bring some of these elements of relaxation into the hour or so before bedtime. That much we might, with some consistent effort, be able to manage. Here are a few of the simple things we can do every day to help our bodies relax into sleep:
Most experts on sleep agree that you should use soothing routines to start your body down the road to relaxation at least an hour before bedtime. Turn down the lights. Put some quiet soothing music on the stereo. Spend gentle nurturing time with family, mate, or friends. Avoid movies or television that may be overly disturbing or stimulating. Reading a fun and relaxing book, which stimulates the internal imagination, is usually more conducive to sleep than TV or internet activities, because it sends our minds inward. Once you have gone to bed, use the bed only for sleeping or lovemaking. That way the body becomes habituated to sleeping (as opposed to eating, conversing, or entertainment) in bed.
Patterns of eating before bed are of great importance. Doctors recommend that one should avoid drinking caffeine at least 4 hours before bed. Even when we are not aware of the stimulant effects of caffeine on our bodies, it can still be keeping us awake. Alcohol can also disturb sleeping patterns, so more than one glass of beer or wine is not recommended before bedtime. Alcohol can even be dangerous when mixed with other sleep medications. I recommend not eating a large meal close to bedtime, because a full stomach can often keep us awake. On the other hand, a glass of warm water or soothing hot herbal tea such as chamomile can help prepare your body for relaxing sleep. Some specialists recommend warm milk at night because of the amino acid tryptophan which helps us relax. Essential oils dripped on the pillow at bedtime can also help set the mood for sleep. Rose, lavender, and citrus aromas all have soothing properties. If you do use essential oils to help you sleep, be sure to use these particular aromas only at bedtime and not for other activities, so your body becomes conditioned to the aroma of rest. Daily exercise is important to help the body sleep naturally, so developing good exercise habits is very important. But most experts agree that one should reduce physical activities a couple of hours before bedtime to help your body relax.
Many people try to combat insomnia by going to bed earlier. This can be counterproductive because they may just spend more time tossing and turning in frustrated wakefulness and setting in motion a pattern in which time in bed equals tossing and turning in sleepless frustration. In contrast, most experts recommend that you stay up later, until you are very tired, before going to bed. This way you are programming your bedtime experience to be one of dropping off when your head hits the pillow.
So how can hypnosis therapy help us to sleep more easily? Well, it’s simple. Hypnosis is nothing more than a state of relaxation bordering on sleep. Indeed the word “hypnosis” was derived from the Greek word “Hypnos” meaning sleep. Learning to relax body and mind with a trance state induced by a professional hypnotherapist can itself teach you how to put yourself in a relaxed state of mind in which sleep comes easily. I encourage my insomnia clients to bring their sleeping pillow from home. I put a blanket over them. I encourage them to curl up on my couch just as they do in their bed at home. I literally teach them how to go to sleep. But that is only the beginning.
In the hypnotic state that borders on natural sleep I often help my clients locate the subconscious emotional and mental blocks that are keeping sleep away. One client discovers a harsh inner Judge is criticizing all of their failures in the wee hours, knowing that is the only time this judge can get their undivided attention. (Ironically, this judge even criticized my client for being an insomniac. I tried to tactfully point out that this problem was your fault, Mr. Judge) Helping the inner judge take a more supportive role in solving the client’s problems helped enormously to restore comfortable sleep.
Another client was haunted by night terrors caused by childhood memories of being molested by her stepfather in bed. We found a new inner father for her, a powerful inner warrior who was a fierce protector for his new daughter. Once he beat up and sent off her ugly stepfather in a hypnotic regression, he agreed to position himself at the door of her adult bedroom every night to protect her. She was ecstatic to find herself drifting off easily to sleep, waking up occasionally to check in with her guardian, and then drifting safely back to slumber.
Another client couldn’t sleep since her beloved husband of 20 years passed away. Her bed was haunted by loneliness and grief. So we brought in the spirit of her deceased husband to live in her pillow, so she could hold him every night. (Thank God hypnosis is a suggestible state! ) Now she sleeps peacefully in his arms each night, where he can help heal the pain of her grief.
Whatever your problem with sleeping is, the sleeping pills your doctor recommends can be a big help getting you through the night. But talk with your Doctor about the lifestyle changes that can help you get back to normal. And ask your physician whether hypnotherapy can be a part of your long term solution. Good luck…good night…and sleep tight.