Study objectives: Slow wave sleep (SWS) plays a critical role in body restoration and promotes brain plasticity; however, it markedly declines across the lifespan. Despite its importance, effective tools to increase SWS are rare. Here we tested whether a hypnotic suggestion to "sleep deeper" extends the amount of SWS.
Design: Within-subject, placebo-controlled crossover design.
Setting: Sleep laboratory at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.
Participants: Seventy healthy females 23.27 ± 3.17 y.
Intervention: Participants listened to an auditory text with hypnotic suggestions or a control tape before napping for 90 min while high-density electroencephalography was recorded.
Measurements and results: After participants listened to the hypnotic suggestion to "sleep deeper" subsequent SWS was increased by 81% and time spent awake was reduced by 67% (with the amount of SWS or wake in the control condition set to 100%). Other sleep stages remained unaffected. Additionally, slow wave activity was significantly enhanced after hypnotic suggestions. During the hypnotic tape, parietal theta power increases predicted the hypnosis-induced extension of SWS. Additional experiments confirmed that the beneficial effect of hypnotic suggestions on SWS was specific to the hypnotic suggestion and did not occur in low suggestible participants.
Conclusions: Our results demonstrate the effectiveness of hypnotic suggestions to specifically increase the amount and duration of slow wave sleep (SWS) in a midday nap using objective measures of sleep in young, healthy, suggestible females. Hypnotic suggestions might be a successful tool with a lower risk of adverse side effects than pharmacological treatments to extend SWS also in clinical and elderly populations.
Keywords: high-density EEG; hypnosis; sleep; slow wave sleep.