We Sleep-Train Babies — Why Not Sleep-Coach Adults?

It's a sequence of events that's all-too-familiar to so many: a night of tossing and turning followed by a day of throwing back coffee in a desperate effort to stay awake and alert. Cue the vicious cycle. 

One in 4 Americans develops acute insomnia each year according to a study conducted by researchers at University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine. It's no wonder some of these exhausted adults are turning to sleep coaches in search of solutions that don't involve prescription sleep aids. 

What is sleep coaching?

So, what exactly does sleep coaching entail? Dr. Alex Dimitriu, double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine, tells SheKnows that sleep coaching "is, in effect, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia — also known as CBTI." Cognitive behavioral therapy, which is used to treat a wide number of mental health conditions, is a solution-focused method of treatment that aims to help patients develop healthier patterns of behavior and reframe damaging thought patterns. 

More: Why Insomnia Is More Than Not Being Able to Fall Asleep

"Sleep coaching or CBT will often focus on maintaining regular sleep and wake times, being mindful of what we do before sleep, and avoiding tossing and turning in bed if unable to sleep," Dimitriu explains. "CBT for insomnia has been shown to be quite effective but often requires the practitioner to be trained and experienced." 

Should you see a sleep coach instead of a doctor?

Both Dimitriu and Dr. Adam Perlman, a physician and director of Duke's Leadership Program in Integrative Medicine, express similar concerns about turning to sleep coaches before undergoing a thorough examination by a doctor. "There is no required training or certification to become a sleep coach and little or no research on the benefits of hiring a sleep coach," Perlman tells SheKnows. 

"The concern with nonmedical people managing insomnia is their lack of medical knowledge [because] often, insomnia can also be a marker of some other condition," Dimitriu explains, citing examples such as sleep apnea, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, thyroid conditions and restless leg syndrome. 

More: 5 Healthy Sleep Aids That Won't Leave You Groggy the Next Day

But once a person has been evaluated by their medical provider and an underlying cause has been ruled out, Dimitriu and Perlman say sleep coaching can be an effective way to manage mild cases of insomnia. "If someone is having difficulty getting motivated to make the changes they need to make or feeling unclear or confused about the right changes for them, a sleep coach certainly might be helpful," Perlman says. 

And although Dimitriu has concerns about nonmedical people managing insomnia, he says that laypeople can learn to be effective sleep coaches as long as they remain aware of other medical and psychiatric conditions that could be the real culprits. 

More: Does Melatonin Really Help You Sleep?

Is it worth it?

But as Perlman points out, hiring a sleep coach requires money and time that not everyone has at their disposal. (Sleep coaching is not covered by insurance and can cost up to $150 per hour.) If this is out of your price range, there are other options — books and the internet are excellent resources, and most important, a conversation with your health care provider can arm you with the information you need to get into a healthier sleep pattern. 

Perlman says a sleep coach will provide advice like limiting sugar, avoiding heavy meals late at night, eliminating screens within one hour of bedtime and skipping strenuous exercise after 5 p.m. Again, this is information your doctor can provide — but if you do have the time and budget for a sleep coach, he or she can help keep you motivated and hold you accountable as you make these lifestyle changes. 

Once an underlying condition has been ruled out, a sleep coach may be just what the doctor ordered — but it's important to remember there's a wealth of information and advice available for people who can't shell out the money for a sleep coach. 

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