Sleep, Meditation, Hypnosis – is there a difference?

Sleep is a perfectly normal state and indeed an uncompromising requirement for all living things.


And although scientists can’t confirm categorically that every animal sleeps, most creatures in the animal kingdom do indeed need to sleep. That’s not that they all experience sleep in the same way.

Why do we sleep?

The function of sleep was once shrouded in mystery, but there have been some interesting studies conducted in recent years providing evidence that sleep is crucial not only to allow our bodies to heal and recuperate but also for memory consolidation and for the effective removal of waste from the brain. Yes, the brain actually has a waste disposal system, an internal plumbing system that rids the brain of toxic wastes. and sleep is when this cleanup ritual occurs.

During the day our brain cells build connections with other parts of the brain as a result of the new things we experience using our five senses, then while we sleep the important connections are strengthened and the unimportant ones are cropped, trimmed and filed away.

Sleep deprivation

Some of us might be familiar with the term “pulling an all-nighter”. Whether you were partying, working, or your new-born baby kept you awake all night, the chances are you felt slightly worse for wear the next day.  It’s also becoming harder to put down our phones and tablets at night because we feel like we might miss something important, or on social media, we want to watch one last video, or read just one more article. A recent study showed that people who routinely snuggle up in bed at night with their computer or mobile phone are twice as likely to be sleep deprived than others.



Sleep deprivation in one form or another has been used as a form of torture for centuries and is rumoured to still be in use today as an enhanced interrogation technique for detainees, prisoners of war and terrorists.

Research links a lack of sleep to an increase of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. With chronic sleep deprivation there may be serious long term health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke. Other potential problems include obesity, depression and lower sex drive.


The structured practice of meditation is thought to go back 5,000 years. It is highly conceivable that our ancient ancestors would slip into an altered state of consciousness staring at the flames of a fire in a dark cave after a long day hunting and gathering. This trance like state would allow them to reduce the amount of cortisol previously needed for their crucial fight or flight response.



Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety, improve your mood, concentration and attention. But not everyone finds meditation easy. In fact it can be incredibly frustrating and challenging trying to ‘’empty your mind”. Of course emptying the mind is not the point of meditation as I understand it. The goal of meditation according to Yoga International, is to “go beyond the mind and experience our essential nature—which is described as peace, happiness, and bliss.” Meditation is not about forcing the mind to be still but letting go of resistance, of doubt, worry, uncertainty, feelings of fear, inadequacy and desire. Just being still and in the moment.


To the casual observer a hypnotised person may appear to be asleep. Not only do they appear to be asleep, he or she may subsequently describe the experience as “sleep-like”.

It was this sleep like appearance that led James Braid to coin the term “hypnosis” from the Greek Hypnos (to sleep) and indeed there are some parallels between sleep and hypnosis, most notably the REM state which is most commonly associated with dreaming sleep.  Hypnosis is the creation of the REM state which allows the mind to be more open and receptive to positive suggestion. Hypnosis opens up the interface with the unconscious mind allowing new patterns of behavior to replace old negative patterns that are no longer useful or have become self destructive.

Numerous studies have shown that hypnosis, like meditation has measurable positive neurological effects on the brain. Brain imaging studies seem to confirm that hypnosis is indeed an altered state. Studies using electroencephalography (EEG), positron emission tomography (PET), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) show distinct changes in the brain during hypnosis and in response to suggestion.


Hypnosis is often used on professional athletes, musicians, actors and singers to help with their performance. Hypnosis helps people suffering with stress and anxiety, with phobias such as fear of flying or public speaking. It is used to help people stop smoking, to sleep better, to manage emotional issues and pain control to name a few.

A hypnotic state is an extremely pleasant state of relaxation whereby beneficial suggestions are given directly to the part of the mind known as the subconscious. In hypnosis, the conscious, rational part of the brain is temporarily bypassed, making the subconscious part, which influences mental and physical functions, receptive to therapy.

Gail Marra D.Hyp MNCH (Acc) LAPHP is a GHR registered Clinical Hypnotherapist accredited by the National Council for Hypnotherapy, Association for Professional Hypnosis and Psychotherapy, National Register of Psychotherapists and Counsellors and the Complimentary and Natural Healthcare Council

10 Harley Street, London W1G 9PF      Tel: 020 7873 2051

The Chilston Clinic, Royal Tunbridge Wells TN4 8RA      Tel: 01892 513535


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