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Does Somnambulism Contribute to the Arise of Fears and Phobias?

Does Somnambulism Contribute to the Arise of Fears and Phobias? Are Fears and Phobias Sub Conditions of Hypersuggestibility and Spontaneous Hypnosis (Somnambulism)?


In the 1960’s John G. Kappas, Ph.D. theorized that hypersuggestibility exposed individuals to external and internal elements that created an environment where fears and phobias could thrive. Depending on one’s level of hypersuggestibility or somnambulism, they were subject to being the victim of many phobic conditions based on that exposure.

Does an overload of input create a state of spontaneous hypnosis where hypersuggestibility can give rise to fears and phobias? Can altering an individual’s hypnotizability reduce their fear response?  And can we redefine how fears and phobias are recognized and offer alternative methods of management?


The American Psychiatric Association recognizes (1.)
“Hyper” Somnambulance as a DSM 5 condition as one of excessive sleeping within the Sleep-Wake Disorders. It is classified as such along with Insomnia, Narcolepsy, Sleep Apnea and Restless Leg Syndrome. It is the only condition that resembles Somnambulism as a non-sleepwalking event and yet differs greatly in its context.

Within the hypnosis community, the condition of
Somnambulism is recognized as a condition of an individual who is hypersuggestible to their environment and who experiences a state of spontaneous hypnosis due to a weakened critical filter which is not a significant enough barrier between the conscious and subconscious mind to prevent an overload of message units from penetration. In this heightened state of unconscious arousal, individuals are thought to experience environmental suggestion the same as they would experience a suggestion given in a state of deep hypnotic trance. The more frequent subjects experience this occurrence, the more sensitive they become to it happening again which creates a state of hypersuggestibility. (2.) Kappas)

It would then make sense that an individual with this condition if exposed to negative environmental aspects, would over time develop a hypersensitivity to that element. A person with Hypochondria would have to be hypersensitive to the presence of illness or disease to have a need to acquire one. An individual with Agoraphobia has to be hypersuggestible to their environment to fear open spaces, closed spaces, etc..  

Literature Review

Therapeutic hypnosis does seem to benefit in resolving these conditions through desensitization therapies, (3.)Walters and Oakley, 2003.) but is this because it is the solution or the cause? If hypersuggestibility and spontaneous hypnosis give rise to fears and phobias, can altering suggestibility reverse, reduce or even prevent those conditions?

Significant relief may be afforded individuals with these conditions and prevent their severity if somnambulism is responsible, by correcting the condition early in life using the very condition that caused it – hypnosis or de-hypnotization, as these individuals are in a perpetual state.

There does seem to be enough information to draw a conclusion that the definition of somnambulism as determined by the hypnosis community, makes far more sense than any other.  Further studies on diagnosed phobic clients are needed to assign suggestibility levels using standardized hypnotisability tests and strictly defined parameters for determining, “What are the defining characteristics of Somnambulism?”  Also by reviewing previous studies and applying a hypnotic definition filter of somnambulism to these observations and analyzing the results through this different lense.

Operational Definitions

suffer from hypersugestibility and spontaneous hypnosis, the two major symptoms of Somnambulism.  A Somnambulist is a person who is capable of descending into a spontaneous state of deep hypnotic trance without the benefit of therapeutic assistance. When an overabundance of incoming information, (message units) (2.), creates enough internal anxiety, an individual engages a parasympathetic primordial escape mechanism that disrupts the fragile barrier between conscious alertness and unconscious drifting.  The subject attempts to escape the intense anxiety of the input by engaging this internal escape mechanism into a more pleasant state of hypnosis.  (2.) While experiencing this state, elements within the environment create a heightened exposure event. When we cannot fight our environment, we flee. In this case, into a more relaxed and pleasant state of hypnosis, according to Dr. Kappas.

In a post-mortem psychological autopsy of Howard Hughes, the billionaire aviator business tycoon, it was discovered that his childhood was one of isolation. His mother feared him catching polio, (The major disease of children at the time.). She was a zealot in her approach to germ prevention. Every day she checked for disease and was rigid in his food choices. At his death, Howard Hughes was so germ phobic that he slept naked in dark hotel rooms with tissue boxes for shoes. His phobias prevented him from cutting his hair or nails and he had his clothes removed and burned for fear of exposure to disease. (4.) APA Journal July/August 2005.) Anecdotally the correlation seems clear.

Hughes was exposed to his fear of germs from his mother’s desire to prevent him from getting polio. Her behavior might have well been presented in a healthy way, but Hughes’s subjection over time at an early age where the critical filter between conscious and unconscious awareness is underdeveloped was interpreted as a threat to his young well being. Dr. Kappas theory also suggests that when the escape mechanism, (also called the Fight/Flight Response) is evoked, the object of that fear response becomes embedded into the subconscious due to the hypersensitive state, especially in those of children.(2.)

Dr. Kappas proposes that most individuals interpret information on a spectrum from the left brain literally, or the right brain inferentially. The message units come into the brain in a way that each individual assigns value. Somnambulistic individuals receive message units with the same velocity bilaterally on both sides of the brain which is the overload trigger into spontaneous hypnosis.(2.). Daydreaming is the first stage of escape.

Subjects with this condition might also find themselves unable to stay alert at the movies or while riding in the car as these simple actions bombard them with too many message units. They may experience brief intervals of memory loss as somnambulistic states often produce a condition known as
hypno amnesia where the lack of concentration produces forgetfulness. One hypnosis researcher, (5.) Barabasz) observed this phenomenon in himself while in a doctors office.

“After asking me to remove my shirt, the nurse left the room, “for just a moment” – a respite from the imminent punctures. I could see the autumn leaves falling from a tree through slits in the window blinds and began to wonder how I might respond to …..” “You can put your shirt back on now”, said the nurse. Ten minutes had passed since I had begun my gaze at the falling leaves. I now had bandaids holding down little cotton balls on both my left and right deltoids.’
(5. Barabasz 2006). As a result of this kind of memory loss, subjects may have no recollection of their first exposure episode, leaving them stymied as to the origin of their affliction.

In this exposed hypersuggestible state, somnambulists develop high incidents of complimentary fears and phobias. A fear of germs (Mysophobia) might also be accompanied by a fear of clusters (Trypophobia) or a fear of worms (
Scoleciphobia) or a fear of disease (Nosophobia). Evolutionary survival would prevent you from walking up to the hole of an organism that threatened your survival. If you fear the worm by association you would begin to fear the wormhole over time. Hypersuggestibility to one creates a fear of another.

In a 2016 a quantitative study on Trypophobia, (a fear of holes or clusters), was completed in Japan. 856 Japanese subjects were surveyed after being exposed to triggering images. All the other data withstanding, (age, sex, discomfort level), from a hypnotherapeutic perspective, the most significant result of the study was that out of 494 individuals, 50% (135 men and 136 women) had a history of skin disease. The numbers are so high that no other conclusion can be made that these individuals experienced an unconscious, hypersuggestible event related to the health of their skin was somehow involved in this condition.

50% had a history of skin disease and 50% did not. But might they have had other fears and phobias? The hypnosis community would look at this as a clear case of exposure sensitivity and a correlation with somnambulism and ask; what other fears or phobias do you suffer from?”  Researchers might have discovered high incidents of associated fears or phobias related to dermatitis confirming hypersuggestibility, resolving the initial triggering event which might resolve all the other connected issues.

This experiment was replicated with exactly the same results with the same ratio of respondents reporting dermatitis.
(6.)Yamada & Sasaki 2017) This experiment concluded that at its core, Trypophobia is a fear of penetration of the skin or a modern day adaptation of a fear of disease or death, due to visual acuity issues, a strong disgust reflex piled on top of a fear response, (which still may be true.)

Because somnambulist can be exposed to almost anything and subconsciously interpret it as a threat, almost anything can produce a fear reaction. In 1977 a case study (7.) Cohen 1981) was reported where a man of 64, came in with a fear of “Bovine Sounds.” He grew up a loner who grew up in a pleasant small town environment surrounded by cows. He had always been “sensitive” to loud noises but this fear was exploding into a full-blown phobia where he could no longer tolerate the sounds. The regular cow moos where bad enough but now he was being bombarded with the sound of high pitched screaming bulls.

Under the lense of the APA approach, these conditions might be separate and unrelated conditions or conditions of “abnormal psychology”. However, within the hypnosis community, these are conditions of overexposure when hypersuggestible to one’s environment. If hypnosis caused the problem, then hypnosis can resolve the problem by altering the subjects hypnosis profile which controls the escape mechanism and prevents overload. Once the Fight/Flight mechanism is equalized to be within a range of reasonable reaction, desensitization is presumed automatic.


Hypnotheraputically, hypnosis practitioners do not take a deep dive into the condition or the nuances of relationships that might have helped give rise to the somnambulism. We simply evaluate the level of hypnotizability to establish cause and work on decreasing that level to come back within an acceptable range. This is where the hypnosis community differs from others, which is also why it is not necessary for us to have years of school studying mental illness.

Additionally, Somnambulism as a DSM 5 condition does not exist, therefore offering it as a solution for diagnosable fear and phobic conditions, is at this time more of a theoretic option than a practical one. An expansion of the definition has to include, and explain the notion of “
OVERLOAD OF MESSAGE UNITS”, or the concept of hypersuggestibility and spontaneous hypnosis is unlikely to be widely appreciated outside of the hypnosis community.


  1. American Psychiatric Association, (2013) pgs. 368-371 – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition
  2. John G. Kappas, Ph.D. (2009)- Introducing Physical and Emotional Suggestibility and Sexuality. The Professional Hypnosis Manual, 5th Edition pgs, 8, 10, 12, 110 – 111, 133-143, 174, 179-182, 228-229, 235-239. 
  3. Valerie J. Walters and David A. Oakley (2003) – Does Hypnosis Make in Vitro, in Vivo? Hypnosis as a Possible Virtual Reality Context in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Environmental Phobia. . Volume 2 Issue 4 pg. 295-305)
  4. American Psychological Association (2005) – Hughes’s germ phobia revealed in psychological autopsy. Journal July/August 2005, Vol 36, No. 7) 
  5. Areed F. Barabasz, Ph.D., Washington State University (2005) – Whither Spontaneous Hypnosis: A Critical Issue for Practitioners and Researchers American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis – 48:2-3, October 2005/January 2006).
  6. Sheldon B. Cohen, MD (1981) – Phobia of Bovine Sounds, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, Vol 23 No 4.
  7. Yuki Yamada & Kyoshiro Sasaki 2017 – Involuntary Protection Against Dermatosis: A Preliminary Observation on Trypophobia, BMC Research Notes


  • Sheryl Hill. CHt.

    Sheryl Hill holds a certification in clinical hypnosis from the International Medical Dental Hypnosis Association and the International Association of Counselors and Therapists. She specializes in conditions related to medical/dental diseases and environmental hypnosis.

    View all posts

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