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Amazing sleep research

By on September 21, 2014

This is an amazing piece of research on sleep, and what we are capable of while we sleep.

To understand why this research is so incredible you need to understand the history of ‘sleep learning’. Obviously we do learn while we sleep, because this is the time when our experiences are consolidated and integrated with our memories. But that is not the sort of learning we are talking about; we are talking about learning something from a stimulus (typically a sound because our eyes are usually closed when we sleep) that we hear when we are asleep.

It used to be thought that we could learn in our sleep. This lead to the practice of playing foreign language lessons, so we could learn French or spanish or Chinese while we slept. Later research showed that this type of learning was largely ineffective, and the practice dies out.

Now this new research from Thomas Andrillon and Sid Kouider from Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris. These researchers carried out a simple yet brilliant experiment. They placed subjects lying down in a dark room and gave them a simple task; they asked the subjects to press a button with their left hand or their right hand, depending upon whether a word they heard describe something that was living, or described an object that was not alive, for example ‘cat’ or ‘hat’. They also told the subjects that if they wanted to they could go to sleep during the course of the experiment. The researchers also scanned the motor cortex of the subject in particular to determine if the left, or right, motor cortex was active.

During the experiment it was typical for the subject to fall asleep. However by scanning the subject’s motor cortex, even when they slept,  the researchers were able to tell if the motor cortex was attempting to press the left-hand or right-hand button. If the subject was trying to answer the question, even when they were asleep, the researchers would know it.

The results of the experiments were amazing. The researchers found that the subject’s brain continued to process the task even when they were deeply asleep.

 Application to hypnosis

As hypnotists, we have been trained not to allow our clients to go to sleep during a trance, because it was believed that they could not accept suggestions was they were asleep based on the earlier research. As it did to us, if we believe our client has gone to sleep, we might test them by asking them to take a deep breath in and out. If they fail to respond, the hypnotist might assume they were asleep and wake them up for example by changing voice tone into a faster and lighter voice, or even by tapping the back of their hand. Once they were awake, the normal trance work could continue.

This new research puts an entirely different spin on this. If the brain is still processing external information even when the subject is asleep, then the hypnotist can use any periods of sleep to introduce direct suggestions on an even deeper level.

 Using the research effectively in hypnosis

So how can we use this research effectively as hypnotists?

The first point to note is that in the research these subjects had been primed to respond in a certain way, by pushing a button either with their left or right hand. Therefore, in order to use these results effectively we should prime the hypnosis subject to respond appropriately. For example we might say:

“In the course of this trance I might say, ‘Jane, NOW  is the time to CHANGE’, end your unconscious mind will take the opportunity to fully and completely transform this issue”.

The hypnotist would then use the keywords, ‘NOW’ and ‘CHANGE’ to trigger the client’s unconscious mind to accept the suggestions even in sleep.

The second point to note is that, brilliant as the research was, it was fairly basic in terms of the results. Therefore this technique should only be used as part of a piece of change work, not as a replacement for normal hypnosis and trance. If your client appears to have fallen asleep,  you can use the keywords and very direct suggestions for a few minutes, just to see how beneficial this is.

Below you will find a link to a discussion of the research by the researchers themselves:

In research published in Current Biology, we went one step further to show that complex stimuli can not only be processed while we sleep but that this information can be used to make decisions, similarly as when we’re awake. How your brain actually makes decisions while you sleep – The Washington Post

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