The use of hypnotherapy in supporting people with chronic insomnia
Most of us suffer from periods of insomnia from time to time. Ill health, work pressures, relationship problems, all of these can contribute to periods of disturbed sleep. But for some people, not being able to get to sleep, or waking during the night and being unable to return to sleep, becomes a chronic condition, unrelated to any particular stressors other than the fear itself of being unable to get sufficient sleep to function properly during the day. This is not an unreasonable fear. Not getting sufficient sleep over an extended period of time may be linked to irritability, lack of concentration, tearfulness, and daytime drowsiness. Deep sleep is a time of replenishing, renewing and reinvigorating bodily reserves. Therefore it is no wonder that we do not feel good if we do not sleep well. The quality of sleep is every bit as important as the hours slept, and it is helpful to address both issues at the same time.
A normal sleep pattern is said to consist of periods of light sleep, periods of rapid eye movement (REM), and periods of deep sleep. These different stages of the sleep cycle occur throughout the night, although the amount of sleep that any one individual actually needs to function effectively seems to be open to debate.
Hypnotherapists supporting the chronic insomniac need to ensure that the client’s expectations are managed realistically. A client who has suffered from chronic insomnia for several years is unlikely to reverse that trend after a single session. Helping a chronic insomniac ‘reset’ their sleep clock is something that can take several months and therefore hypnotherapy sessions are usually well spaced apart. It is often useful to ask the client to keep a detailed sleep diary as this can help identify any significant sleep patterns. Many insomniacs who seek hypnotherapy do so as a last resort having tried conventional treatments, including drug therapy, and finding that over a period of time, drug therapy has become less effective despite upping the dosage.
Certain aids to a good night of sleep would appear to be common sense, but not everybody follows them. Cutting back, or preferably eliminating, caffeine from the diet, reducing alcohol intake, eating healthily (but never late in the evening), taking regular exercise and stopping smoking may all help improve sleep patterns. Conversely, watching television just before bedtime, or working on the computer, or engaging in any brain stimulating activity may all contribute to a restless brain when it is time to sleep.
Bedrooms should be kept dark, cool (but not cold) and quiet when it is time to sleep to encourage the natural rest/activity cycle that is inherent in us all. Daytime napping is discouraged.
Hypnotherapists supporting chronic insomniacs will often make a recording of deep relaxation methods so that the client can practice slowing down before bedtime in readiness for sleep. Hypnotherapy sessions may include teaching ways of calming the overactive brain, practicing visualisations of how to have a restful night of sleep, and also more general sessions involving looking at ways to reduce anxiety and stress, and dealing with any obvious stressors. Obviously some stressors may not be solvable, but the hypnotherapist may use NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) techniques to help the client put problems into perspective, or ‘reframe’ problems i.e look at the problem from a different viewpoint.
Supporting insomniacs to reset their internal activity/sleep cycle is not a ‘one size fits all’ process. Some people respond to a set routine of going to bed at a certain time each day and getting up the same time each day regardless of how much sleep they have had. Others may respond better to staying up until they are really tired and only then going to bed, but setting the alarm clock an hour early to encourage a feeling of tiredness the following night. Another technique is to suggest to the client that when they go to bed, they do not try to get to sleep at all, thus reducing the stress of ‘having’ to get to sleep by a certain time. Removing the fear of not sleeping is one of the central aims of supporting chronic insomniacs, for it can be the fear of not sleeping which is the main inhibitor to getting a good night of sleep. However, once the body’s activity/rest cycle begins to improve, the fear of not sleeping may begin to recede naturally, thus encouraging more restful sleep.
So if you find yourself tossing and turning into the small hours night after night, you might want to consider seeing a hypnotherapist. The earlier you break the cycle, the quicker the return to natural sleep can be achieved.
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James BrannanNovember 29th, 2016