'Hypnosis helped me get to sleep'

Suzie, a chronic insomniac, turned to hypnosis after acupuncture, yoga, herbal teas and a regimented bedtime ritual failed to get her to sleep.

Through internet research, Suzie learnt how hypnotism could tackle the deep-seated issues disrupting her sleep.

She went on a self-hypnosis training programme, which consisted of five one-to-one sessions at University College London's Hypnosis Unit.

However, tests carried out at the unit suggested that Suzie may have a low level of hypnotic-suggestibility, meaning that she could not easily be hypnotised.

Her consultant, Dr Valerie Walters, decided to work on self-hypnosis techniques in an attempt to lower Suzie's adrenalin level, improve her ability to relax, reduce her anxious thoughts and prepare her body for sleep.

Anxiety as a barrier to sleep

"It was clear that anxiety was a problem," says Dr Walters. "High levels of adrenalin make it difficult to sleep."

Dr Walters says the self-hypnosis techniques, which all involve mental imagery, are adapted to the individual's own strengths.

In Suzie's case, visual imagery and sense of touch were important in creating a comfort zone, and triggering "good feelings".

"The theory is that if she can relax in that place, she can learn to have that same feeling in other situations," says Dr Walters.

For Suzie, the self-hypnosis techniques were particularly helpful, such as the scenario where she imagines that she's blowing bubbles in a relaxing setting of her choosing.

"The exercises have improved my concentration," she says. "At work, I'll do the bubble-blowing exercises between tasks.

"They make me more focused on what I'm doing. I'd even do them on the train. I can feel an immediate relaxation."

'Hypnosis did provide me with answers.' Suzie

Sleep relaxation techniques

Another relaxation aid was the "favourite place" exercise, which was also based on Suzie's personal experiences.

"I'm lying in a hammock in my parents' garden," she says. "I'm reading a book or sleeping. It's sunny and really peaceful.

"To reach my favourite place, I walk down some steps and feel the warm stones under my bare feet. I get in the hammock and feel the book. A cat wanders over with its tail in the air. Then a dog comes to rest near me."

Dr Walters says it's important to suggest details, such as touch, and "actually feel" the comfort of the hammock.

She also worked on changing Suzie's attitude to sleep. "Suzie saw her anxiety as a permanent thing," she says. "That contributed to her problem."

Suzie thought that she could only fall asleep in complete silence, but she lived in a shared household, so this belief raised her anxiety.

In one relaxation technique, you imagine that you're breathing through your feet. You feel the breath move slowly up the body, down the arms and out of the hands.

"Hypnosis provided me with answers," Suzie says. "But it's not an overnight solution. I've learnt techniques, and it's up to me to keep working on them."

Page last reviewed: 10/07/2014

Next review due: 10/07/2016

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