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

X immediately informed me I’d need at least four sessions, which would cost an additional $600. After gulping, I sat in a big lounge chair so comfy I could have fallen asleep immediately. X spoke through a mic into the headphones I was wearing, even though he was sitting right next to me. He instructed me to go deep into relaxation as I counted upward, and said I probably wouldn’t get past number 4. When I hit 24, he changed tactics. At one point, he explained in his voice-over how helpful my sessions would be. Instead of relaxing my mind, he was leading it to wonder, Is he hypnotizing me into signing on for that extra $600? When the session was over, X said I had trust issues and would need five sessions. He also offered to sell me a CD for $20. Good-bye, X. Too bad your technique wasn’t on a par with your comfy chair.

I discovered Tiers on the site for the New York Open Center, the largest holistic learning institution in the United States. Six years ago, Tiers helped a man recover from a phobia that had afflicted him for 10 years; it took her two sessions. The man’s psychiatrist called afterward and asked, “What did you do?” Since then, 80 percent of her clients have been referred by psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists. Tiers has helped people with sleep issues for more than 10 years.

“Morning people don’t need an alarm clock,” she says. “They wake up, and their internal dialogue says, ‘It’s Monday! Let’s go!’ At night they get into bed and say, ‘Oh, I’m tired. Zzzzz.’ Poor sleepers operate in reverse. Mornings, it’s hard to get moving. Their minds rev up at night.”

Tiers had just described me to a Z.

So off we went. The game plan: First, I’d be armed with a sleep program, a list of techniques for turning off the inner babble that tells me I can’t sleep. Then I’d learn to hypnotize myself and hopefully never need the exercises again.

Technique number one—bilateral stimulation—was easy. Tiers asked me to think of something that made me anxious and rate it on a scale of 1 to 10. I thought of my lousy cable service and said 8. She had me spend a minute passing an apple-size ball (anything tossable works) from one hand to the other. Then I took a deep breath and checked in on my anxiety level. It was a 4. Another round of ball passing, and I was down to a 2. She explained that by stimulating both sides of my brain, I was spreading out my neural activity and stopping the fear signals in my amygdala, the area that processes emotional reactions. Already I wanted to nod off. Don’t ask me how it worked. I just know it did.

For the second technique, expanding my peripheral vision, I stared at a spot on the ceiling—something I’m good at—then widened my gaze out to the sides, up and down, while still staring. The technique forces your awareness outside your head and away from the noisy chatter inside.

Next, Tiers taught me EFT: Emotional Freedom Technique. This combo package of acupressure and self--hypnosis involved tapping acupuncture points with my fingers while acknowledging that I don’t sleep well, accepting myself and choosing to let poor sleep go. Dr. Oz featured a segment about EFT on his TV show, so I figured it must be good.

After EFTing, I got to sit in another big, comfy chair. Tiers asked how I felt right after I took an Ambien; my hypnosis was designed to help me achieve that just-took-an-Ambien feeling. She had me count down, opening and closing my eyes on each count, feeling heaviness behind my eyes, down my torso, in my legs.

As I imagine all that heavy drifting, she explains, my mind will make a hypnotic suggestion to my body. And it does; my head feels sleepier. Good job, mind! Next, she directs me to press my thumb and forefinger together as if I had an Ambien button that would shoot me another dose every time I gave it a go. Counting down from 50, I squeeze away and want to zonk out before I hit 40.

My homework: Do three rounds of EFT before bed and if necessary follow that up with some ball passing and spot staring. Then install my Ambien button. Code for: self-hypnosis.

First published in the November 2012 issue

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