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Can Hypnosis Help Insomnia? (Review of Studies)

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Jul 17, 2021

For a long time, hypnosis has been associated with pseudoscience that’s more of a gimmick in TV shows than anything else.

But recently, research is showing that hypnosis appears to have real therapeutic effects, and may be useful for disorders like insomnia.

I’m going to walk you through that research in this short post.

Research on Hypnosis and Insomnia in Adults

One study tested the use of hypnosis in patients with anxious-depressive symptoms and insomnia (1).

A group of 61 patients were given hypnosis by 2 psychotherapists that specialized in hypnosis.

There were significant improvements in depression, anxiety, and insomnia scores. All three of those conditions heavily influence each other.

Insomnia was measured using the insomnia severity index (ISI). In the experimental group, ISI scores went from:

  • 18.76 to 8.84 in women
  • 27.31 to 16.37 in men

The researchers followed up 2 months later and the scores remained much lower than baseline.

SummaryHypnosis can have a large effect on anxiety, depression, and insomnia that sustains even after initial treatment.

The Effect of Hypnosis on Cancer Patients With Sleep Trouble

Cancer patients often have sleep trouble and also typically prefer to avoid pharmacological treatment.

Having more options like hypnosis on top of proven treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy is always a good thing. Some studies have shown that hypnosis is effective in this population.

For example, a study looked at the use of self-hypnosis in cancer patients (2). Patients used 4 specific online self-hypnosis recordings (which I couldn’t find unfortunately) and saw improvements in ISI scores:

Unfortunately, the results were not statistically significant, likely due to the small sample size (14 in each group).

Still, it’s enough to warrant more research, and a 2017 review found that hypnosis can be effective for insomnia, pain management, and other conditions that cancer patients face (3).

Hypnosis in Children With Insomnia

Not all treatments that work on adults work on children and vice versa.

In the case of insomnia, it’s usually caused by stress and anxiety in adults, while fear of nightmares is more common in children.

The effect of hypnosis on school-aged children was studied and showed positive results (4):

Of the 70 patients reporting a delay in sleep onset of more than 30 minutes, 90% reported a reduction in sleep onset time following hypnosis.

There were improvements seen in multiple aspects of sleep quality, even in children with comorbidities.

As you can see in the chart above, no subject had a sleep onset time of under 30 minutes at the start (as they were chosen due to sleep trouble). By the end, a clear majority of students were able to get to sleep within 30 minutes.

SummaryNot only does hypnosis improve insomnia in children, but it appears to work for the majority of children, even if they have other conditions.

Hypnosis for Post-Menopausal Women With Insomnia and Hot Flashes

One last interesting population to look at are post-menopausal women.

Menopause causes insomnia in many women due to the effects of low estrogen, which can cause side effects like hot flashes.

This can be treated with hormone replacement therapy, but that comes with additional risks. Hypnosis appears to be a potential alternative that comes with minimal risk of adverse effects.

A study administered hypnosis treatment to post-menopausal subjects 5 times a week for 6 weeks (5).

Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) scores went from an average of 11.69 to 6.10 after the 6 week period. For reference, a score of 5 or under is considered “good,” so this treatment got subjects quite close to that threshold.

At the 12 week follow-up, the average PSQI score was even lower - 5.42.

This coincided with steady improvements in the frequency of hot flashes:

SummaryHypnosis appears to be a potential treatment method for post-menopausal women with sleep quality.

Summary: Is Hypnosis for Insomnia Effective?

The research we looked at showed that hypnosis can produce a large positive effect on insomnia symptoms in most patient populations.

However, let’s talk about a few limitations before you get too excited:

  1. The effectiveness of hypnosis likely depends on the technique and frequency used. Not everyone has access to a specialist multiple times a week.
  2. Online self-hypnosis did prove effective in one study, but that doesn’t mean every self-hypnosis YouTube video will be effective.
  3. There are other causes of insomnia other than stress and anxiety that hypnosis probably isn’t effective for (it hasn’t really been studied).

Overall, hypnosis is a safe non-pharmacological treatment for insomnia that can be tried. However, it should likely be used as an additional treatment on top of more robust and proven treatment methods.

References

  1. Relaxation and Hypnosis in Reducing Anxious-depressive Symptoms and Insomnia among Adults
  2. Results from a study examining the feasibility and preliminary efficacy of a self-hypnosis intervention
  3. Hypnosis in Cancer Care
  4. Hypnosis for treatment of insomnia in school-age children
  5. Clinical Hypnosis in the Treatment of Post-Menopausal Hot Flashes

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.