I’m often asked how to work with insomnia. Now, I think it’s best to work with each person as they come in. Each person with insomnia is different. That being said, here are some common techniques I’ve found useful…
Get A Doctor’s Referral!
Insomnia can be a symptom of several different medical issues so it’s best to send your client to a doctor to eliminate those as possibilities before you work with the client. Then, with a doctor’s referral, you can work with the client.
How Do They ‘Do’ Insomnia?
You can always use direct suggestion hypnosis to work with any issue. In this case, simply induce trance and suggest that the client fall asleep more easily (and/or sleep through the night peacefully–there are different kinds of insomnia). But I use that technique as a fallback. Other techniques can be more elegant and effective.
In NLP we sometimes ask how someone “does” a problem to get more information. “If I were filling in for you, what would I have to do in order to reproduce the insomnia” might be one way to ask. Often the client will start with a big-picture explanation such as, “Don’t go to sleep for several hours after you go to bed.” You want to hone in for more detail including what thoughts they’re having before/as they’re having trouble sleeping and what feelings too.
Anxious Internal Dialog
Insomnia is often run with internal dialog–usually anxious sounding, fast internal dialog. In other words, the client is talking to themselves about things they should have done, or need to do and their internal, mental voice is in an anxious tone. Not very soothing. What do you do?
Have the client shift the tonality and speed of what they’re saying to a slow, sleepy tone. They can worry all they want, they just have to do it in a slow, drowsy, sleepy tone of voice (inside their heads). That, alone might get them to sleep like a baby.
Get The Criteria
It can also be a good idea to get the criteria for staying awake (or waking up in the middle of the night). Ask the client to mentally go to a time when they couldn’t sleep, identify the feeling they were feeling and communicate with that feeling. I usually use the feeling itself as ideo-sensory communication. I ask the client to ask the feeling a series of yes/no questions and have the feeling answer by getting stronger for yes or weaker for no. After a while you can usually ask directly what the feeling is trying to do for the client.
When I stay up late, it’s often because of a feeling that I don’t want to miss out on something. When I was a kid and the adults sent us to bed, I always wondered what they were doing and why couldn’t I stay up. I felt like I missed out on something important! (Now that I have a 9 year-old, I know a moment’s peace is high on the list :-))
When working with clients, it helps to answer the criteria in another way. For instance, someone with anxiety that keeps them awake might be trying to take care of things so they don’t forget something important. It can pay to make a case to the part of the mind that’s anxious in that specific situation that lack of sleep can cause forgetfulness too. You might teach the client to examine each item list they go through in their mind and figure out if there’s anything they can do about it right at that moment. Perhaps they simply write down the things they need to remember first thing in the morning. Then they mentally check that item off their list and move on.
I stay awake so I won’t miss out. I can make a case for the part of me that wants to stay up that I’ll miss out on sleep or on some of tomorrow’s activities if I don’t get enough sleep. Then I can compare what I’ll miss out on if I go to sleep with what I’ll miss out on if I don’t and make a decision that way.
Adding Criteria To Suggestions
At the very least, you can add the criteria to the direct suggestions. “You quickly and easily fall asleep when you go to bed because it helps you remember things better. Because you have a good night’s sleep, you more easily keep track of important things.” Or, “You go to sleep at _____ o’clock so you don’t miss out on your sleep. You get a good night’s sleep and that helps you do everything you want to do the next day.” Adding the right criteria to suggestions makes them much more powerful. You’re answering the need that the behavior was trying to get anyway!
It All Works, None Of It Works
All the usual suspects can work. Sometimes insomnia is just a habit someone picked up. You can slow down internal dialog and images, you can use various swish patterns, you can collapse anchors. But if the behavior has some current, unanswered criteria in there, you’d better get that answered in some way. Actually, that holds true for most any problem.
I’m going to bed now,
Good article, Keith. My husband was experiencing insomnia. He’s doing much better now that he realized his anxiety was over not getting enough sleep. So he got all tense about it. After doing an online sleep course, he discovered he doesn’t really need as many hours as he thought he did (trial and error learning how much he really needed, instead of what he thought he was suppose to get). And…also learning for himself, the world doesn’t end, if he should not get as best sleep as he’d like.
All that helped relieve the anxiety-the internal conversations that were keeping him from getting the sleep that was best for him.
It’s made a difference for us as well, of course…I’m no longer “tip toeing” around for fear I’ll disturb him and he’s so much more relaxed about the time he goes to bed now…Whew!
Nice to see you here.
I used to suffer from insomnia myself. My issue was that I got all up in my head about not being able to go to sleep. I would toss and turn for hours, imagining how sleepy I’d be the next day and how I couldn’t get things done. So for a while, whenever I couldn’t fall asleep, I’d just get up and work. For some reason that worked for me and now I fall asleep pretty darned quickly. I think it was because when I quit worrying about falling asleep, I discovered how sleepy I was, lol. It’s different for everyone though…
Sometimes it needs that Medical referral as it can be a medical problem in that the ‘mind’ is not regulating chemicals correctly. Can also be a sign of clinical depression. Many, many varied causes for insomnia.
I generally like to find out also where in that head the voice is coming from and if the voice is male or female. (Generally seems to be self as you mentioned.) Cannot say what I would rather do as it all depends on that particular client and Milton had that well figured out as you well know.
Keep up the good work, these letters are very helpful.
Thanks Keith, very helpful and much appreciated!!!
All the best
I wonder if teaching them EFT tapping that they can use while lying in bed would also help.