Some hypnotherapists may say that it doesn’t matter if you sleep during hypnotherapy for the subconscious never sleeps. This is true, we still digest food when asleep, we still breathe and we even dream however I suspect there are very few people that would learn French solely by listening to a learn French CD every night whilst they slept.
I have two arguments for sleep not being an ideal state of mind for hypnotherapy to take place. My first point is simply why do we use hypnosis if a sleep state would be fine? Surely we would be sleep therapists. Although the word hypnosis is derived from the Greek word hypnos, meaning to sleep the two are in fact very different states of mind. Dave Elman (one of the ‘heros of hypnosis’) apparently said:
"Sleep and hypnosis are really two entirely different states. They are not compatible, when the hypnosis precedes the sleep. Those of you who are doctors know from your medical studies that in sleep the bodily functions slow down. Respiration gets slower and deeper, blood pressure and heart action slow down, reflex action slows down. In hypnosis, you will sometimes find the mildest of slowdowns, but most of the time, none at all. In sleep the mental processes slow down considerably, and in deep sleep, there is an apparent loss of consciousness. This does not occur in hypnosis.
"If you test reflex action in hypnosis, you will find it quite normal. Respiration does not decrease; heart action remains normal; blood pressure remains normal. It is true that these functions can be made to slow down by suggestion, but you can't get them all to slow down simultaneously as occurs in natural sleep. Despite appearances, it is impossible to fuse these two dissimilar states—the normally functioning body in hypnosis and the slow functioning body in sleep.”
As a hypnotherapist I do not want to induce sleep, hypnosis is focused attention with deep relaxation. I want my clients to be consciously aware (focused attention) but relaxed, which leads me onto my next point.
During the vast majority of hypnotherapy sessions with me the clients have input. They will be speaking, answering my questions, telling me things that they have thought about, if we are instilling anchors making actions with their hands – generally very much an active part of the session. I rarely have a client sit in my room and just listen to me for an hour but this does sometimes happen and it is what happens when my clients listen to their CDs. However, even though during these times the client is not participating in a way that anyone would be aware; in my opinion they are participating hugely. Much of the time will be spent asking the client to visualise certain things, maybe asking them to get a feeling into their mind and body, perhaps asking them to recall a previous experience. All of these things, in my opinion, take conscious awareness. When in hypnosis the subconscious mind is much more at the fore however we are not switching the conscious mind off totally (again the difference between hypnosis and sleep is highlighted). I want my clients to be consciously aware, although I sometimes want them to just allow thoughts to come naturally from the subconscious there are also times that I am quite happy for the conscious mind to get involved. For example when I ask the client to imagine themselves in the future if they change the way they eat, here a bit of conscious logic may be required. I am certainly not suggesting that the conscious mind is the part of the mind we want to work with during hypnosis – again that would go against the general view of what hypnosis is and why we use hypnosis (to access the subconscious mind) but I definitely think some conscious awareness is required. If a client falls asleep during hypnosis they have lost the ‘focused attention’ part of hypnosis. They are simply deeply relaxed. I also believe that being consciously aware of what happened in the session (or remembering what was on the CD) will help my clients in day to day situations. Although the purpose of hypnotherapy is to help the client make positive changes without the need for will power; in my opinion remembering (being consciously aware of) the image of oneself dying from a smoking related illness Vs the image of vibrant health achieved from stopping smoking goes a long way when deciding whether to smoke another cigarette as does the image of maggots over the chocolate when deciding whether to eat that next bar of dairy milk!
There are only two instances in which I would be more than happy for my clients to fall asleep whilst listening to one of my therapy CDs, if they had come to see me to help them sleep better at night or if they had come to see me for relaxation.
If anyone disagrees I have a learn French CD right here, I challenge you to listen to it every night whilst you sleep for a few months and then come to me with all that you have learnt. I will happily be proven wrong as there are a few things I would love to learn but just don’t have the time!