Hypnotherapist Andrea Squibb on the Power of Sleep

As we kick off Sleep Awareness Week here at Standard Dose, we’re excited to be chatting with hypnotherapist and CBT-I clinician Andrea Squibb. As someone who struggled with sleep herself throughout childhood and early adulthood, Andrea is passionate about helping her clients find the rest they need. Read on to learn more about the science behind sleep, as well as tips you can implement to improve the quality of yours.

Thanks for speaking to us for Sleep Awareness Month, Andrea! To kick things off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?

My pleasure! I am a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist also certified in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). I have been in practice since 2010 using hypnosis, mindfulness techniques, and CBT-I to help clients get the deep, delicious sleep they need.

Have you always been interested in sleep? What sparked your interest in this side of your work?

As a child, I experienced sleep paralysis, sleep walking, and also had some waking dreams (or visual hallucinations where the mind is dreaming and projecting images into the external space while the eyes are open). In my twenties, I had a lot of difficulty staying awake in classes, business meetings, and while driving. In my thirties, I had difficulty falling asleep, so I have always been intrigued with sleep, and understand how difficult and debilitating insomnia can be. 

When I started studying hypnosis, I learned that we pass through the hypnoidal state on our way to sleep, and that hypnosis is the closest we can be to sleep without actually being asleep. In addition, hypnotic suggestions can be used to improve sleep, and clients can mentally rehearse good sleep hygiene and other supportive techniques while in hypnosis, which begins to create new neural pathways for the mind to follow in the waking state. If this is visualized in enough detail, the subconscious mind will store the visualizations with equal weighting as an actual event, which begins to create new, healthier habits. So many people struggle with insomnia, and I realized that hypnosis could be of service to them, and that I was uniquely equipped to combine my training in hypnosis, mindfulness, and CBT-I to reduce that struggle.

For those who may be new to hypnosis, can you explain what it is and how it works?

Hypnosis is a narrow state of focus combined with physical relaxation. It is a natural state of being that we pass in and out of throughout the day. For example, we hypnotize ourselves to sleep every night. A day dream is also a light state of hypnosis. When we read a book or watch a movie and laugh or cry, we are also in a state of hypnosis. We are suspending our disbelief, narrowing our focus to the book or movie, and allowing ourselves to react as if it were really happening, creating space for an emotional response. 

When you are working with a hypnotherapist, the therapist will direct you to narrow your focus to what they are saying and/or the sound of their voice, and they will suggest relaxation or facilitate relaxation exercises so that you can also become physically relaxed. Your brain waves will slow down, your breath will deepen, you may feel little muscle twitches throughout the body as the muscles are released, your body may cool, and your mind may drift to more imaginative, creative thoughts. Once in the hypnoidal state, the therapist can make direct or indirect suggestions that your subconscious mind will be more likely to accept because the critical filter in your mind can be temporarily bypassed. The critical filter would normally filter out anything that didn't fit with your subconscious conditioning or programing, but in the hypnotic state it is "turned off.” That is why the hypnoidal state is known as a growth or learning state.

Why is sleep so important? How much do we need?

Studies show that up to 35% of adults in America do not get enough sleep, with the recommended sleep cycle being six to 10 hours each night. Teenagers and young adults generally need closer to 10 hours per night, while seniors usually need less sleep, or closer to six hours. As you can see, the range of sleep needed is fairly wide. Therefore, it is important to take into consideration your age, your own physical make-up, as well as your personal needs and lifestyle when determining what the right amount of sleep is for you.

More recent data seems to point to the average adult benefiting from closer to seven hours per night, instead of eight hours. Eight hours per night had been the recommended number for many years, but a 2016 meta-analysis involving 35 published studies and over 1.5 million adults found that the lowest mortality is actually associated with seven hours of sleep. Our internal sleep systems also seem to be pointed toward seven hours.

What are the three stages we move through before sleep, and how can we better transition through them? 

The first stage is called the "Thinking Stage.” This is when we are still having "daytime thoughts," such as "I wonder why she said that to me?" or "what do I need to do before I leave for work tomorrow," or even "that TV show was funny.”

The second stage is the "Fantasy/Imagination Stage,” where we begin to have more imaginative and creative thoughts that are different from the normal daytime thinking, rumination, or strategizing. 

The third stage is the "Hypnoidal Stage," where you begin to really relax physically and lose track of time. From the Hypnoidal Stage, we move on to sleep. 

The best way to help ourselves transition through these three stages is to allow ourselves to set aside our "daytime thoughts,” and utilize our imaginations. We can begin to recall a pleasant relaxing memory or invite a dream we would like to have. We can also assist our body in relaxing with techniques like the body scan, progressive relaxation, or deep breathing exercises.

How can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) and hypnosis work together to address sleep issues? 

CBT-I addresses the cognitive distortions and unhealthy behaviors that disrupt sleep or keep us stuck in the insomnia spiral. It teaches us how to change our thoughts and behaviors to those that support healthy sleep. Hypnosis can be used to support healthy sleep in other ways such as hypnotic suggestion, desensitization to negative triggers for insomnia and guiding oneself to the hypnoidal state, reinforcing the bridge to sleep, and reinforcing CBT-I teachings and techniques.

What are a few daily practices we can implement to improve our overall sleep quality?

Get out in the sunlight daily to support your natural circadian rhythm, go to bed at the same time nightly as often as possible, and aim to get up at the same time daily or within 30 minutes of that time. If it is morning and close enough to your set time to rise, get out of bed. Do not stay in bed trying to catch up on sleep. Do your "catching up" the next night. Utilize relaxation techniques in the stages leading to sleep to help you get to bed faster.

What does your evening routine look like? 

Each evening, I utilize my knowledge of good sleep hygiene and follow practices that support healthy sleep! I eat a light dinner by 8 pm and usually have a glass of wine while I’m making dinner to unwind. I turn my attention away from work and my phone for the rest of the night if possible, and do something to relax which might be getting into comfortable clothing, lighting candles and watching a movie, listening to our record collection, grooming or playing with my pets, or playing guitar. I usually begin to pull the curtains closed around 9 pm, and turn off all the lights except for those in the room I’m in. I like to create a to-do list for the next day, and clean up the kitchen and dishes before I head to bed. 

All of these things give me a sense of the day coming to an end and create a fresh start for the next day. I usually get into bed around 11 pm and set my alarm for 7 am the next morning. I make sure it’s nice and dark in my room and that it’s as quiet as possible. I pull back the comforter or stick one of my legs outside the covers so that my body naturally begins to cool. Once I feel cool and/or sleepy, I pull the covers up and over my body. If I’m not sleepy, I might read in bed for a bit or start to create a wonderful dream I want to have, but I usually fall asleep quickly.

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