Psychology is a wide-ranging field of study with many offshoots and areas of specialization. One of those is Sleep Psychology. The job of the Sleep Psychologist is to help prevent and/or to treat a variety of sleep disorders and associated conditions. In our modern, high-tech, 24-hour interconnected world sleep disorders are becoming a major problem.
Some are the direct result of working with clients half a world away, while others stem from more complex factors that may have their roots buried deep in a relationship or other issues. Let’s take a closer look at the Sleep Psychologist, what they do, and how they can help.
What is Sleep Psychology?
Sleep Psychology is the study and treatment of sleep disorders caused or exacerbated by underlying psychological issues. The Sleep Psychologist is trained to look for psychological problems that can cause disruptions in a person’s normal sleep patterns.
Anyone of virtually any age can suffer from psychologically driven sleep disorders. Some typical causes include divorce, the death of a loved one, professional setbacks, being overworked, being assaulted, relationship stress, being bullied, moving, and much more.
The Sleep Psychologist also understands that issues such as these often walk hand in hand with other problems. So they frequently consult psychiatrists, neurologists, and other specialists when attempting to reach an accurate diagnosis and formulate an effective treatment plan.
Why is Sleep Psychology Important?
Sleep psychology is important because it can provide valuable insights into why you may be having trouble sleeping. This insight helps the Sleep Psychologist formulate an effective treatment for your sleep disorder.
“It appears that every man’s insomnia is as different from his neighbor’s as are their daytime hopes and aspirations.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
What are the Problems Addressed by Sleep Psychology?
There are numerous different problems that could cause a disruption to your normal sleep patterns, including but not limited to:
- Stress – Stress and anxiety are major causes of sleep disruptions. They may have their source in any number of situations ranging from office politics to financial losses to health concerns and more. The job of the sleep psychologist is to help you pinpoint the cause of the stress or anxiety and then devise methods for addressing it.
The psychologist may ask you to keep a diary that they’ll use to try and pinpoint what may be causing your anxiety.
- Depression – Sleep disorders are one of the telltale signs of depression. Not that all people who experience problems sleeping are depressed. But many are. And the sleep psychologist may well attempt to either verify or disprove this notion before moving on to other possible causes.
Simply because if the person is genuinely depressed, it’s imperative that it be diagnosed quickly so that effective treatments can be devised.
- Relationships – You won’t need a sleep psychologist if your sleep problems are associated with night shift work. The psychologist is more about exploring emotional or psychological causes that may be behind your insomnia. Examples of this might be if you recently began a relationship with someone who is a night owl.
Are you afraid you’ll lose them if you don’t keep up with them? Is there another type of relationship problem you’ve been reluctant to discuss? Are you harboring secrets you fear your partner may find out about?
What are the Sleeping Tips Provided by Sleep Psychology?
Here are a few common types of advice a Sleep Psychologist may provide to an average person with no serious underlying causes.
- They’ll advise you to determine how much sleep you need – Sometimes the reason a person never feels rested is that they never really are. The average person needs anywhere from 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. With a small percentage needing more than that and a small percentage needing less than that.
The key to determining how much you actually need will be to gradually ramp up how much you get over the course of several nights. When you finally experience a day where you feel both mentally and physically sharp all day, (without having to depend on caffeine or naps to prop you up), then you’ve found the right amount of sleep for you.
- Don’t work right up until bedtime – Some people keep burning the candle until the last minute and then head straight for bed. This is a pretty good way to guarantee a restless night. Sleep Psychologists often recommend their patients allow themselves an hour or more to unwind before they crawl into bed.
This time should be spent engaging in a cooldown ritual which, when practiced enough, will be internalized by both body and mind and signal that the day is done. The Sleep Psychologist may also recommend turning off blue light devices like computers and smartphones. Since blue light has been shown to interfere with the production of melatonin.
- Don’t lie in bed staring at the ceiling – If you can’t get to sleep in 10 or 15 minutes, Sleep Psychologists will often recommend that you not lie in bed staring at the ceiling. This only compounds the problem. Instead, they typically recommend getting up and doing something to take your mind off the problem.
Read a (real) book, wash the dishes or lay out your clothes for the next day. When you start to feel groggy again go back to bed.
“If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying.” – Dale Carnegie
What are the Essential Roles of a Sleep Psychologist?
The essential role of the Sleep Psychologist is to diagnose and treat the various underlying causes contributing to a person’s sleep disorder. In some cases, that means helping the patient confront uncomfortable emotional situations or come to terms with professional or personal setbacks.
In other cases, there may be a physical malady at the heart of the sleep disorder, which only reveals itself once potential psychological causes have been eliminated.
Some of the conditions the Sleep Psychologist is trained to diagnose and treat include:
- Insomnia – The inability to get to sleep or stay asleep is the most common form of sleep disorder and has scores of different potential causes, both psychological and physical. The role of the Sleep Psychologist is to narrow down the possible causes and devise a treatment plan.
- Sleepwalking – There are a number of potential causes for sleepwalking. The role of the Sleep Psychologist is to determine which of them is causing your somnambulism. Those potential causes include sleep deprivation, having an unpredictable work schedule, stress, taking certain OTC medications like antihistamines, and drinking too much.
- Parasomnias (nightmares) – The occasional nightmare is to be expected. We all have them from time to time. Some people, however, experience regular nightmares that disrupt their sleep cycle, which then has a cascading effect on other aspects of their life. Potential causes are stress, eating right before sleep, certain medications, and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome or PTSD.
- Dependence on sleep medication – Some people take treatment of their sleep disorder into their own hands and wind up addicted to sleeping medications as a result. Popstar Michael Jackson wound up overdosing on sleep medication. The Sleep Psychologist can help the person dependent on sleep medication to deal with the underlying cause of their sleep disorder, paving the way for their freedom from these medications.
- Sleep apnea – Sleep apnea is a vexing condition where a person’s breathing typically stops and starts while they’re sleeping. People with the condition often snore very loud and wake up still feeling tired. Because sleep apnea can be aggravated by a lack of sleep, the Sleep Psychologist can play an important role in minimizing the severity of this condition.
Training Undergone by a Sleep Psychologist
The Sleep Psychologist has undergone many years of intensive training to earn the title.
- After leaving high school, their formal training typically begins with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
- While earning their bachelor’s, many will gain their first practical experience by volunteering in a mental health clinic or helping a professor with his or her research paper.
- After receiving their bachelor’s degree in psychology, the individual will then move on to a master’s degree program. At this point, they will start to narrow down their area of focus to the field of Sleep Psychology.
- After achieving their master’s degree in psychology, they will then pursue a doctorate in psychology. This is no place for slackers. To get accepted into a doctoral program the candidate will typically need a score of 1200 or higher on their GRE, a GPA of at least 3.3 and a fair amount of real-world experience either as a volunteer or paid staff in a related setting.
- Even after getting a doctoral degree, the aspiring Sleep Psychologist is not finished training. Most states will require the candidate to complete a two-year internship. This internship may need to be approved by the American Psychological Association (APA).
- Before being granted a license, the candidate may be required to present a case study to a board of psychologists or they may be required to pass an exam. Or both.
Benefits and Importance of Sleep Psychology
The most important benefit of Sleep Psychology is that it enables the patient to not only restore their normal sleep pattern but to deal with the underlying causes at the same time. It’s a holistic approach to treating sleep disorders, as opposed to the more brute force approach of simply throwing tranquilizers at the problem.
The importance of diagnosing and treating the underlying causes of sleep disruptions cannot be overstated. If this crucial step is glossed over or ignored altogether, a lasting solution to your sleep problems will remain frustratingly elusive.
Remember, health issues like this don’t just appear out of thin air. They have a cause and that cause can be discerned and treated with the help of a skilled Sleep Psychologist.