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Hypnosis Proven to Boost Restorative Sleep

Though hypnosis has long had its doubters, it has long been offered up as an alternative for those who were suffering from insomnia. There are an enormous number of sleep hypnosis tapes and videos available online, and a burgeoning “sleep whisperer” industry that may not exactly entail hypnosis but offers a type of relaxation therapy that has its adherents and loyal followers. Despite anecdotal information and feedback about the success that insomniacs may have experienced from listening to these hypnosis tapes, a new scientific study is opening many eyes, as it has shown that hypnosis has real, measurable benefits for those suffering from sleep issues, and specifically for people whose slow wave sleep cycles are too short.

Our nightly sleep is not as simple as it may appear. It is actually broken down into a number of different cycles that we progress through repeatedly during the course of the evening – or at least that is the way things work when our bodies are functioning optimally. Slow wave sleep is the period during which our bodies do the most regeneration… growth hormones are released, cells are repaired and our immune systems get to work making us feel better and heal the day’s ills, so when we miss out on this important cycle, we suffer in multiple ways. Now researchers from the Universities of Zurich and Fribourg have determined that when we’re not getting enough of this crucial period of rest, we can use the power of our brains and will to set things to right.

Slow Wave Sleep is the part of the human sleep cycle that includes both the third and fourth stage of sleep. These are the final stages of non-REM sleep, and they are notable for being characterized by a very slow heart rate and breathing rate. There is no eye movement, little brain activity, and the body barely moves at all. Once a person is in a Slow Wave Sleep cycle they are extremely difficult to arouse, and if awakened they are generally extremely disoriented and confused. We generally spend approximately thirty percent of our sleeping time in Slow Wave Sleep, and it is considered critical to building bone and muscle, regenerating tissue and recharging our energy stores.

In a study that was just published in the scientific journal Sleep, scientists have found that hypnosis can be used to improve sleep quality, and particularly the slow wave sleep cycle. According to biopsychologist Bjorn Rasch of the University of Zurich, a project titled “Sleep and Learning” has led them to the discovery of exactly how extensively hypnosis can help, and the finding is exciting. “It opens up new, promising opportunities for improving the quality of sleep without drugs,” he said.

The study has provided a quantifiable way of showing that hypnosis can help to accomplish an intervention that people are unable to do consciously or voluntarily.  The researchers utilized standard sleep study equipment, including an electroencephalogram to measure electrical brain activity, in order to measure changes in slow wave sleep. This particular sleep cycle I characterized as showing very slow undulations and oscillations in terms of electrical impulses in the brain. In the study, 70 young women were asked to take midday naps that lasted for 90 minutes. Prior to going to sleep, the participants were asked to listen to a pre-recorded tape over loudspeakers. The tape was a specially designed slow-wave sleep hypnosis program developed by sleep specialist Professor Angeilka Schlarb. The group was later asked to listen to a different, neutral spoken text in the same manner. The group was divided into those who were considered to be highly suggestible versus those who were not, based upon the accepted Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility.

After dividing the group in this way, researchers found that those young women who had been determined to be highly suggestible and who listened to the slow wave hypnosis tape had an increase in slow-wave sleep of eighty percent as compared to when they listened to the neutral spoken text.  The women also experienced a reduction in the amount of time that they were awake during the allocated nap time of 67 percent.  The electroencephalograph data showed that the other sleep cycles were not impacted by the hypnosis. Those women who had been predetermined as not being susceptible to hypnosis showed little to no benefit from the hypnosis tape.  As a result of the study the researchers, Maren Cordi and Bjorn Rasch determined that the hypnotic tape was the cause of the difference, rather than mere expectations of a difference as a result of being involved in a study. Though statistically speaking women tend to be more susceptible to hypnosis then men, the researchers also found the hypnotic tape was effective on men who scored as highly susceptible also.

Because slow-wave sleep is so essential to overall health, the researchers are particularly encouraged with their results, as it offers an alternative treatment for those suffering from sleep problems or disorders that does not involve any of the harmful side effects that may result from using sleep inducing drugs. Though hypnosis is only beneficial to those who are susceptible to it, testing for this susceptibility is an easy task, and once it is determined that a patient is highly suggestible the approach may yield many positive effects.

The project that this study originated from, “Sleep and Learning”, is being conducted as a joint venture at the Universities of Zurich and Fribourgh and is being financed by the Swiss National Fund and the University of Zurich. The mission of the project is to determine whether there are either psychological or neurophysiological brain mechanisms that can have a positive impact on the brain, particularly in areas of memory, sleep and mental health.

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