When people think of hypnosis and hypnotherapy, they tend to think of stage hypnosis, of people dancing like a chicken or lapsing into a different dimension at the click of a finger. In reality, clinical hypnotherapy is much different. It can be surprising to realise that clinical hypnotherapy is quite a scientific process. In many ways, it replicates the natural and powerful therapy of sleep.
During the night and a highly desirable eight-hour sleep, we will generally go through four to six sleep cycles, each one around ninety minutes. These sleep cycles consist of different NREM and REM stages, which are categorised by the different degrees of brain activity. For a hypnotherapist, the REM stages of sleep are the most important as these are when we are processing, consolidating and regulating memories and emotions. Sleep is as essential to the body and the mind as physical exercise and nutrition – although, in society, we tend to strive to do more exercise and eat healthier while depriving ourselves of sleep.
Most people who come into my clinic with stress, anxiety, depression or anger tend to be struggling with sleep in one form or another. This could include difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night, waking up too early, disturbing dreams, or sleeping too much. Many clients are exhausted trying to regulate their sleep. This has also been exacerbated by the recent restrictions of coronavirus and lockdown in 2020 / 2021 which has seen reports of insomnia rise from one in six to one in four.
Whatever the patterns of disturbed sleep clients are experiencing, they are generally being robbed of REM’s precious benefits. Your mind is like a video camera during the day. It records everything and holds it in the short-term storage of your brain’s hippocampus. Here it waits for the overnight processing of REM to cement these into the long-term storage of the neo-cortex (the spongy mass at the top of your brain). This means that whatever stress, worry or anxiety you build up during the day is dealt with during sleep, leaving your cognitive systems clear and tidy for the next day. Not enough sleep and yesterday’s business is still lingering when you begin accumulating the next day’s stresses.
This would suggest that stressed people would need to sleep more to process this greater backlog of information. Instead, what generally happens is that when your brain reaches processing capacity, it will just give up and wake you. You are forever working in deficit and exhausted and frustrated by the disturbed sleep it causes.
Most clients that come in to see me talk about waking up throughout the night. 2.30 pm seems to be the most common wake-up time.
Sleep hypnotherapy mimics REM, artificially processing the backlog you are struggling to cope with during your sleeping hours. After a seemingly short while, this extra REM helps regulate sleeping patterns. Many clients comment that the first thing they notice during regular hypnotherapy sessions is increased sleep hours and sleep quality.
People often find it hard to understand why hypnotherapy works and see themselves as a ‘believer’ or ‘non-believer’ as if the process is based upon faith. Hypnotherapy is grounded in the brain’s neuroscience and can often help clients get the most important therapy of all – a good night’s sleep.