Sleep symptoms show up many different ways. Articles and podcasts give you a lot of different insomnia causes and reasons for why you have difficulty sleeping.

Your sleep symptoms might manifest as:

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Waking up in the night and then it seems to take forever to fall back to sleep
  • Nighttime anxiety
  • Waking up groggy, sluggish, and not fully alert
  • Daytime fatigue and low energy
  • Insomnia
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Restless sleep

Let’s say you’ve been to the doctor and had a sleep study. You’ve tried seemingly everything and still have difficulty sleeping. So frustrating! I get it. I’ve been there.

Arianna Huffington’s Book, The Sleep Revolution, moved me because of the compelling amount of evidence she presents for why we really, really need to get enough quality and quantity of sleep. Beyond the data and research, however, a big part of her underlying message resonates so much with my own: Healing our insomnia and other sleep problems requires us to delve beyond sleep itself. We need to look at other areas of our lives.

My mission to teach people self-hypnosis for sleep came from an understanding that hypnosis uniquely accesses the unconscious. And the unconscious rules the sleep realm. Hypnosis and self-hypnosis rely heavily on the language of metaphor. So do dreams. So do the parts of us that govern our sleep cycles.

When we want to resolve sleep symptoms that are ruled by the unconscious, doesn’t it make sense to look at them as metaphors? Maybe we can decode their meanings to solve our sleep riddles. Additionally, this can lead us toward greater insight into ourselves.

When people have chronic sleep issues, I recommend they see a physician who specializes in sleep so they can have a sleep study to get to the root of insomnia causes and to make sure they don’t have a sleeping disorder. We want to identify any risk factors. Certain conditions like obstructive sleep apnea and narcolepsy endanger a person’s health. They may also require specific medical treatments.

Even when these factors come into play, looking at the language of our mind-body connection through the symbolism of our symptoms can be fascinating and empowering. Much of my success with clients who have difficulty sleeping and with my Deep & Easy Sleep Self-Hypnosis Package comes from this holistic approach.

Let me give you some examples:

If someone tells me that they have trouble falling asleep, I think about that quite differently than if they tell me they wake up with nightmares regularly. Why? Here are some of the questions I wonder about when I work with people with sleep problems and when I designed my sleep self-hypnosis audios:

• Trouble falling asleep is actually very specific. It might relate to difficulty shifting from “doing” and being “on” to resting and being “off duty.” This sleep symptom or type of insomnia might reflect challenges with letting go of alertness. Does it mirror ways that a person might not let themselves rest, be able to rest, or has some core pattern that just won’t rest or let go?

When the sleep symptom includes a lack of deep sleep, I often wonder about if something touched that person deeply in a way that they haven’t yet put to rest.

• Fatigue might represent ways that someone feels metaphorically exhausted. I’ve observed great improvements when addressing the unconscious with hypnotic suggestions. These can create space for lifting burdens and responsibilities during sleep time. It can also be helpful for a person to ask themselves about what’s draining their energy.

• A different type of insomnia may represent a different type of communication from the mind-body language. Some people wake up with anxiety in the middle of the night and have problems getting back to sleep. This sleep symptom can sometimes relate to having felt interrupted in the middle of being taken care of at some point. Or perhaps it symbolizes an important way in which they were on a path that got or felt disrupted.

• Frequent vivid dreams or nightmares may be saying something else. From a hypno-therapeutic perspective, they should be treated differently. I tend to think, in these cases, that the unconscious wants to communicate through colorful and attention getting stories. It can be helpful to look to the dramatic events in a person’s life for clues to gain better understanding of the multi-faceted elements at play. Perhaps this dreamer feels and processes things very deeply. Working with dreams or giving conscious weight and attention to life events can create more harmony between the waking and sleep states.

When we approach our bodies and minds as a cooperative system, we live healthier lives.

Too often we see symptoms as things to overcome and fix. I have found that we lead happier, healthier lives — and sleep better — when we listen with interest and gratitude to our unconscious realms. Sometimes our systems manifest in uncomfortable ways to get our attention or while processing important material.

When we hear and comprehend the meaning of symptoms, we gain strength, power, and profound guidance. This can lead to transformation. Once we start to dialogue in that metaphoric language, often times, the unconscious responds. And ultimately, this can lead to us sleeping better.

Post previously appeared on on July 21, 2020

Featured image by Worldley Calvo Stock for Adobe

Additional image by hobitnjak for Adobe.


  • Dyan Haspel-Johnson, Ph.D., S.E.P.®

    Psychologist & Hypnosis Expert

    Thrive Global

    Dr. Dyan Haspel-Johnson runs a private psychological and hypnotherapy practice with a specialty in hypnosis for sleep and other mind-body-spirit modalities. After receiving her BFA from Rhode Island School of Design, Dr. Dyan earned her Ph.D. in psychology while working in a physician's holistic medical practice. Her creative and science based backgrounds inspire Dr. Dyan's unique way of thinking about healing. Her approach led her to become the Vice President of Continuing Education Programs for the Southern California Society for Clinical Hypnosis, and then to become President of that organization while also teaching at UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry and lecturing at many other institutions. Dr. Dyan's expertise with sleep, and the demand in her practice to help people to sleep better motivated Dr. Dyan to make the complimentary, downloadable eBook and video, "The 3 Biggest Things That Cause Sleep Problems & The ONE Thing You Can Do by 3pm Today to Sleep Better." She has also created the Deep & Easy Sleep Self-Hypnosis Package, available through her website.