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PERSONAL EXPERIENCES: Insomnia

"Diane" had just moved to Vermont for a new job. She called me, asking for help in sleeping, because she was waking up every morning at 5:30 am because her neighbors would loudly prepare themselves for work around this time. She was extremely anxious about the fact that she just couldn’t function with the sleep deprivation she was experiencing. She even wondered aloud if she would be able to stay in Vermont if the problem continued. Fortunately, I was able to see her soon after she called, as the situation was at a crisis point for her.

When we met, we talked more about the history of her sleeping problems. She said she had always been a light sleeper and felt that this issue had even been a significant obstacle to maintaining long term relationships. The specifics of her current problem were the sounds of the neighbors getting up, with loud walking, talking, pounding around the apartment, and doors slamming as they departed for work. In her words, "All those sounds make me feel like there is someone coming at me."

This description made it clear that not only were the sounds themselves waking her up, but also they were triggering a "fight or flight" physical response. In "Diane’s" case, she was reacting to the neighbors’ sounds with that physical response that got her so revved up, it was impossible to go back to sleep.

My first goal was to teach her how to create the "relaxation response" in her body and mind. The "relaxation response" can be considered the antidote to "fight or flight". It is also a delightful way to enter into the state of hypnosis. Diane had experience with meditation, which served her well in reminding her body how to move into a state of calm.

We began with a brief session, which allowed me to assess her ability to relax. I asked her to focus on a spot on the ceiling and slowly blink her eyes ten times, allowing them to feel the natural heaviness that resulted, and to let them stay closed when they became quite heavy. I then asked her to imagine a "yardstick of relaxation" in front of her, with the number 36 at the top, indicating an awake, alert and active state, and the number 0 on the bottom, indicating a deeply relaxed state, right on the edge of sleep. I guided her through a brief process helping her to relax the different areas of her body, from the top of her head, to the tips of her toes.

Diane moved easily from 15 (before eye closure) to 8 (after eye closure), to 2 (after the progressive relaxation) on her "yardstick of relaxation". This was an excellent sign that she had a natural ability to relax and let go in a safe situation. (Most people do have this ability.) All we needed to do now was to give the message to her subconscious mind that her new home was a safe setting for her, and that the sounds her neighbors were making were not a threat to her in any way. With this understanding the subconscious mind would then be able to access its ability to tune those sounds out, and to remain in the sleep state she so desperately needed.

We then did a longer session, which I tape recorded, where my voice guided her into an even deeper state of relaxation. I gave her suggestions for safety and an enhanced ability to tune out the normal sounds of her environment, including the sounds of her neighbors. At the end of the session, she opened her eyes with a smile on her face. She had a wonderful experience of hypnosis, reporting that she felt great, even though she "didn’t know where she went." (Sometimes in a deep state of hypnosis, we lose all conscious awareness, yet the subconscious mind continues to absorb and benefit from the suggestions given in this state.) I gave her instructions to use the tape every night when she went to bed.

At her next session, she reported experiencing several wonderful nights of sleep, but was still waking up on occasion. We used the Emotional Freedom Techniques to resolve some of the remaining obstacles, and soon after, Diane was sleeping well consistently and moving on successfully with the challenges of her new job. She was delighted to have found something that worked so well that she didn’t have to resort to pharmaceuticals or over-the counter sleep aids.

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