Does hypnotherapy help anxiety & insomnia?

by | | Anxiety Relief

What is sleep deprivation?

There is a difference between insomnia and sleep deprivation. In his book ‘Why We Sleep’ Matthew Walker describes sleep deprivation as having the ability to sleep but not giving yourself the time to sleep. Most people can probably relate to this. Perhaps despite knowing you need to be up early in the morning you continue to watch the end of a Netflix series. Essentially we have the ability to sleep but for one reason or other, we are unable or unwilling to prioritise sleep over other aspects of our lives.

We can all be sleep deprived for a few nights a week due to our personal circumstances. We might have deadlines to achieve that require us to work into the early hours, grabbing a few hours’ sleep before we need to continue. Whether this produces the best result is a matter of debate.  REM sleep enhances our problem-solving ability and can help to alleviate brain fog. However, if we have a deadline to meet then we will probably prioritise getting the work finished on time.

When our circumstances change, however,  we find that we can fall asleep relatively quickly. We can quickly get back into our normal sleep pattern enjoying replenishing sleep. This is very different to the far more damaging condition of insomnia.

How is insomnia different?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder. It is quite accurately described in the lyrics of the banging 90’s house tune by Faithless; ‘I need to sleep; I can’t get no sleep’.  We might question the grammar but the statement rings true. Insomnia is essentially the opposite of sleep deprivation. Here we want to sleep, we have given ourselves enough time to sleep but we can’t generate sleep.

This is a far more mentally and physically damaging state than sleep deprivation. With sleep deprivation for one reason or another, we are not prioritising sleep. With insomnia, we just don’t have the ability to fall asleep.

A lady in bed suffering with insomnia due to anxiety

Are there different types of insomnia?

Insomnia can be categorised in different ways but many agree there are two main types of insomnia; sleep onset insomnia and sleep maintenance insomnia. Thankfully both types of sleep problems can be successfully treated using Solution Focused Hypnotherapy as they can both be caused by the same issue.

Sleep onset insomnia

Sleep onset insomnia refers to the difficulty of falling asleep. Here we have given ourselves plenty of time to sleep, we have prioritised it over staying up and stimulating our minds. Despite this, we find ourselves unable to drift off to sleep.

Sleep maintenance insomnia

Sleep maintenance insomnia on the other hand refers to the difficulty in staying asleep. So whilst we might have been able to drift off to sleep with relative ease, our mind has woken us up at least once during the night. It is common as we age to wake during the night needing the toilet due to a variety of reasons including hormonal changes. This can be helped by reducing your fluid intake during the evening.

Getting up during the night to urinate is usually no cause for alarm, however, if you are waking up regularly during the night for other reasons then it’s probable that this is linked to your current thoughts and emotions.

Sleep maintenance insomnia and sleep onset insomnia are not mutually exclusive, meaning you can have one without the other or for the truly unfortunate you can have both. It is quite common for people to find it difficult to sleep if they know a particularly stressful or unusual event is going to be happening in their lives.

This could be getting married, a job interview or making a presentation. In these circumstances, a usual sleep pattern can often be resumed once the event is over, especially if there has been a favourable result. Having difficulty sleeping before these one-off events wouldn’t be classified as having insomnia.

Insomnia and anxiety

The two most common triggers of insomnia are emotional concerns or emotional distress (anxiety). This mental health condition can cause sufferers to have ruminating thoughts keeping them awake at night. In an ideal world, we would like to go to bed, our heads hit the pillow and then fall asleep within 10 to 15 minutes. For some this is a reality, for others, there is little chance of them falling asleep as their mind is racing.

Perhaps it’s worrying about things that have been done or things that are needed to be done. In either case, it’s simply not possible to engage in sleep with constant mind chatter going on. Having anxiety disorder makes it very difficult to get to and then stay asleep. Even if you follow a good sleep hygiene routine if you have high anxiety levels then a good night’s sleep will be difficult to achieve.

What causes my anxiety?

Neuroscience tells us that anxiety is caused by worry or negative thinking. We can worry about events that have happened in the past, present or future. Your brain can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, it just accepts that these things are going to happen. If you worry about a meeting or presentation that’s in the future, your brain processes it as if it’s going to happen. The result is that it affects your anxiety levels today.

Imagine there’s a part of your brain that represents a bucket, we’ll call it a stress bucket. Each worry or negative thought you have gets dropped into your stress bucket. So if you worry about something twenty times, that’s twenty things that have entered into your bucket. Now if you do that regularly and with different concerns soon your stress bucket is going to overflow causing your anxiety levels to increase.

The effect of anxiety on our nervous system

If your bucket is close to being full or indeed overflowing, you will spend a lot of your time in your sympathetic nervous system. This is otherwise known as your fight/ flight mode. It’s evolved with us throughout history. In fact, it’s estimated that the part of our brain that initiates it is roughly three million years old.

It’s a survival instinct. If we were facing a foe we would automatically switch on our fight/ flight mode. The part of our brain that regulates hormones would react instantly supplying us with cortisol and other adrenaline. As a result, breathing and heart rate would increase giving us a greater supply of energy-giving blood. This increased our chances of survival giving us a greater ability to either fight our foe or run from it.

Anxiety affecting sleep

So while we don’t have to worry about fighting other tribes or running from a Sabre-toothed tiger, our fight/ flight mode can also be activated with modern living. As we’ve discovered negative thinking causes anxiety. We might be worried about money, relationships, exams, presentations or our future. It doesn’t matter what we worry about the effect is still the same; a full stress bucket and an overactive sympathetic nervous system.

When in bed, if our body is gearing up to fight a metaphorical Sabre-toothed tiger, then it should come as no surprise that we’re going to find falling asleep troublesome. Our body still has an oversupply of stress hormones. These are designed to increase our alertness and increase our heart and breathing rate. None of this is going to aid us in our quest for sleep.

In addition, being in our fight/flight mode raises our core body temperature. In order to sleep our core body temperature needs to be lowered. This is often the reason why we find it difficult to sleep on hot summer nights. When we operate within our sympathetic nervous system our metabolic rate is increased resulting in higher internal body temperatures in areas including our brain.

A man suffering from insomnia due to stress and anxiety

How do we effectively treat anxiety in order to help us sleep?

Remember that stress bucket? Thankfully we have a way of emptying it which is REM sleep, and rapid eye movement. This is our dream state. During REM sleep our mind reruns events of the day changing them from being an emotional to narrative memory, so we gain control over them. If we are anxious or stressed, we often will wake up early as we don’t have the ability to process everything that’s in our bucket.

My ‘Guided Relaxation’ download mimics REM sleep. In effect, it gives you the extra ability to empty your stress bucket. By listening to the download each night you will be giving yourself the equivalent of an extra two hours of sleep. Just think how much extra bucket emptying you will do over the course of a week.

Listening to the download each night will also help you to refocus your thoughts away from the issues that are troubling you. This in turn helps to stop some of those potential worries from dropping into your bucket.

The Solution Focused Hypnotherapy approach to lowering anxiety

Not only will Solution Focused Hypnotherapy help you to empty your bucket it will also help things from going into it making it far easier to empty. Rather than focus on the more negative aspects of your life, with practice, you will change to have a more positive outlook. This then actually becomes an integral part of your new character. When we think positively we are rewarded with a dollop of our happy hormone, serotonin and as we’re not worried things don’t enter our bucket. As a result, our anxiety levels are lowered.

The effectiveness of the Solution Focused Hypnotherapy approach is detailed in another one of my blogs; Case Study: How Solution Focused Hypnotherapy Calms Anxiety

What is Solution Focused Hypnotherapy?

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is a type of talking therapy that uses hypnotherapy to help your brain come up with solutions to its own problems. It is very forward-thinking so as a result there is no need to go over the past. We don’t need to find out what caused your anxiety, we just need to get you to envisage a future time when you feel calm and in control. This is your end destination. We always, therefore, have this in mind during each therapy session.

Through talking we discuss where you would like your end destination to be. You begin to visualise a future where you no longer suffer from anxiety or insomnia. I might ask, what difference would it make if you sleep better? what would that look like? Who else might notice? What would they say? By answering these questions, you build up a picture in your mind of your preferred future.

How does hypnotherapy help?

After talking you are guided into a state of relaxation, a trance state. This is perfectly natural. We go into this daydream state roughly every 6-7 minutes when we are processing information. It is only when you’re in a relaxed state that your conscious and subconscious minds can communicate with each other.

The hypnotherapy part comes right at the end of our session together. This is when those parts of your brain will communicate and come up with ways of finding out solutions to your problems. This helps you to make that vision of your future self a reality.

Should you wish to use Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, our time together will be very brief. Due to the effectiveness of the therapy, we can expect to see each other for around 3 to 6 sessions. In addition to lowering your anxiety levels and enabling you to sleep better, the solution-focused approach brings with it many other benefits.

A majority of my previous clients have noticed an increase in their levels of positivity, self-confidence and problem-solving skills. Many have also been able to reduce brain fog, leading to greater clarity of thought helping them in their work.

The future

A man and woman in bed asleep after lowering their anxiety levels

Imagine being able to sleep soundly in just six weeks’ time as opposed to a nightly routine of overthinking, tossing and turning.

If you are interested in discovering the changes previous clients have made, then please visit my testimonial page via this link

If you would like to find out more about how Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can help, please visit

Author: Ian Murton HPD DSFH AfSFH Reg NCH Reg CNHC Reg is an award-winning Solution Focused Hypnotherapist running sessions via zoom from his home on the Bedfordshire/ Hertfordshire border.

Perhaps you might be interested in reading some of my other blogs:

Can Hypnotherapy Help With Anxiety?

Weight Loss – How Does Sleep Affect Our Weight?

How To Lose Your Lockdown Weight

The Benefits of Sports Hypnosis

Anxiety UK Approved Therapist
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