Questions about Sleep vs. Hypnosis, and the relative suggestibility of each state.

Answered by Calvin D. Banyan, MA, CI, BCH



I have recently purchased some of your materials (7th-path™, Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy Book). I have been very impressed with the 7 Path™ and am considering attending one of your 7 day courses.

I have been working with a local hypnotist for a few months. I have a standing Monday meeting. He is mentoring and teaching me what he knows. He is a real old timer with nearly 50 years of experience and a very busy, successful practice. Anyway I notice a comment you made about sleep and suggestion. You say basically when you are a sleep you don't receive suggestions. This is contrary to much of what I have read from Elman and others who say that the sleeping state is a very suggestive state. They report many examples of suggestions being given during anesthesia. Dave Elman says that a sleeping or unconscious person is very aware and suggestible?

This is important because you many hypnotists, including my present mentor imply or directly suggest that listening to hypnotic suggestions at night and in bed are very effective and strongly encourage it. My present mentor even suggests that it is fine if you go to sleep during a session. You also suggest using the 7 Path at night, a time when you are likely to fall asleep. I am confused by these contradictions. I feel that my personal night time experience supports the efficacy of night time (sleeping) suggestions.

I would appreciate your comments.

Paul McCune


Hello Paul,

Sorry it has taken so long to reply to your email. I'm very behind on all of my email because of the NGH Hypnosis Certification training I have been conducting and our preparations for the upcoming NGH Convention. I hope to see you there.

Regarding sleep and suggestibility: certainly more research needs to be done into the suggestibility of individuals who are asleep. But, until then, here are my thoughts on the subject.

  1. There is a state that you enter into, briefly, on the way to the state of sleep, which is called the hypnogogic state (AKA hypnoidal state) which is considered by many to be a state of heightened suggestibility, and this may well be so, but it is only brief, and is not really a state of sleep. It occurs just before you go to sleep. So in this case we are not really talking about sleep, but a brief period of time just before sleep. Once you are asleep, you are not longer in a state of heightened suggestibility.

  2. The state of unconsciousness that is induced by chemical anesthesia is also not sleep, but rather a chemically induced state of unconsciousness. So evidence gathered about patients being suggestible when under anesthesia does not apply to normal natural sleep.

  3. Sleep is a state of unconsciousness to which hypnosis may be attached, as is the case with Hypno-Sleep that Elman talks about in his book, Hypnotherapy. But, when doing Hypnos-Sleep we are inducing a state of hypnosis (a heightened state of suggestibility) in someone that is asleep. Remember that hypnosis is a state of heightened suggestibility, so just as we can hypnotize someone that is awake, using Elman's techniques we can also hypnotize someone that is asleep. The need to hypnotize the sleeping person to make them suggestible indicates that simply being asleep does not make one more suggestible than when he or she is in the state of normal waking consciousness.

    Hypno-Sleep occurs when you hypnotize someone that is asleep. If someone was highly suggestible when they were asleep then there would be no reason to hypnotize them. (I'm repeating my self. I know. I'm just trying to clarify the point.)

    There is no way to make sure that our clients who were hypnotized remain hypnotized when they fall asleep during a session. So allowing our clients to fall asleep during a session is and calling it hypnosis is, at a minimum sloppy minimal hypnosis, and at worst fraud! We need to do better than that if we want to be respected professionals.

  4. The reason that I suggest that individuals who practice 7th Path™ do so when the go to sleep at night is that: first, the first Recognition is designed to induce hypnosis and so it does not rely on sleep for achieving a state of suggestibility; second, since you will be using the suggestions when you are going into the natural sleep state you will pass through the hypnogogic/hypnoidal state on the way, which may in deed be a state of heightened suggestibility; third, because we go to bed every night anyway, we might as well use that time productively; and fourth, most people will find that doing so helps them to go to sleep at night more quickly.

  5. And, finally we have to remember that we tend to experience what we expect to experience when it relates to hypnosis. If someone expects a hypnosis session to bring about a particular result (or any treatment for that matter, including a sugar pill) there is a strong likelihood that an effect will be experienced. This is called The Placebo Effect. This effect is so strong that every drug manufacturer must demonstrate through clinical trials that their new drug is more effective than a placebo, and it sometimes takes several trials to demonstrate that the actual new drug is superior to the placebo. This is because placebo is so effective. So if a hypnotist is able to create a mental expectancy in a client that a session will bring about a particular change, then half the battle has been accomplished. So placebo could account for some if not all of the effect experienced by clients who have fallen asleep during hypnosis sessions.

I hope that clears things up. Your question is a good one. Thank you for letting me use it on our web site in the Q n A section.

Calvin Banyan, MA