How Hypnosis Helped Me Sleep

A few hypnosis sessions helped one writer finally remedy her insomnia

by Linda Yellin
how hypnosis helped me sleep
Photograph: Illustration By Aad Goudappel

My brown eyes are one of my most identifying traits. So are the dark circles underneath. If you, too, have insomnia, I don’t need to tell you why they’re there. You’re probably reading this at 3 am.

Over the years I’ve tried warm milk, warm baths, valerian tea, eye masks, no reading in bed, no TV in bed, sex before bed, no sex before bed. Nothing worked, so I tried Ambien, which did work, but I didn’t want to keep taking drugs. It was time to think outside the box springs. Especially after my buddy Mike in Chicago told me he’d quit a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit with hypnosis. Insomnia is a habit, right? I decided to see if hypnosis would break it.

Women are twice as likely as men to get insomnia, say researchers. “When we sleep, we actually sleep better than men, but we wake up more often,” says Kelly Glazer Baron, PhD, a clinical psychologist and behavioral sleep medicine specialist at Northwestern University in Chicago, whom I contacted for more information. “Insomnia relief takes effort. Hypnosis can be part of the arsenal.”

New York City certified hypnotherapist Melissa Tiers explained to me how it all works: “Being in a hypnotic state is close to how you feel in a movie theater. When you become absorbed in a film, you don’t say, ‘Hey! There’s an actor! And I can hear the dialogue over all the shooting—nice work, sound crew!’ ” Once you suspend your disbelief, you bypass your tendency to stop and evaluate what’s going on. You can become so engaged in a scary scene that you jump—even if the plot is ridiculous.

When you are hypnotized, you enter a similar kind of mental state. You are more suggestible than usual, and that provides an opportunity for you to rewire unconscious patterns, like that annoying one that keeps you up all night worrying you’re going to be up all night. A hypnosis session plays out in three steps, Tiers told me: induction, the focusing of attention, which puts you into a trance, which in turn leaves you open to a suggestionbased on an image or phrase relating to something you’d like to change.

So was I a good candidate for hypnosis? Well, I can certainly get lost in a book or film, which is a very good sign. But Baron brought up another factor: “Do you have good visual imagery? Are you able to envisage something in your mind and re-experience emotions based on that picture? Some people don’t dream in pictures, but those who do have the imagination to respond to visual suggestions.”

Phew! My dreams are Cecil B. DeMille productions.

Here’s how I managed to find my perfect hypnotherapist, Melissa Tiers.

I started with my usual go-to place: the Internet. I typed insomnia and hypnotists into a search engine, and up popped more than 400,000 results. Perfect: I could entertain myself on wide-awake nights by sorting through them. A YouTube video from JustBe​ wanted to knock me out right on the spot; those guys seemed pretty confident they could do it, considering they issued me several warnings, including, “Only listen if it is safe to sleep now.” I wondered if using my computer counted as operating heavy machinery.

Preferring to trust my subconscious to a fellow human, I stumbled onto an online coupon deal for two sessions with a New York hypnotist I’ll call X. Ten days later, I met X at his office. I wasn’t nervous. Baron had told me, “It’s a misconception that you lose control of your body or your thoughts when you’re under hypnosis.” Which is good to know when you’re walking into the office of a stranger you found online.

First published in the November 2012 issue

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