Chronic sleep problems are common and can have serious mental and physical consequences. “Sleep deprivation at its worst is literally torturous; even mild chronic sleep deprivation changes brain chemistry and physiology, leading to deterioration of cognition, memory, and mood,” said Dolores T. Puterbaugh, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of a recent article emphasizing the therapist’s role in helping a client overcome sleep problems. Puterbaugh believes that many of the techniques being used for various mental health challenges can also be used to improve a client’s sleep patterns. “Counselors are trained in addressing the intersection of cognition, behavior, and emotional distress; their code of ethics also emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary consultation in treating complex client problems whenever that is appropriate, said Puterbaugh.
Experts agree that people should try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night in order to maintain optimal physical and mental health. “Sleep disruption and poor sleep are primary symptoms of many disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder,” said Puterbaugh. “Anxious patients may have difficulty sleeping or maintaining sleep due to raised levels of norepinephrine. Sustained periods of stress and poor sleep increase levels of Cortisol, which in turn leads to loss of cells in the hippocampus.” She added, “Because of the interplay between sleep and mental health, whether a client is seeking assistance for anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, adjustment issues, or other difficulty, interventions to normalize sleep may help relieve symptoms and build confidence from self-efficacious action. Like exercise for depression, cognitive-behavioral interventions for sleep are actions the client takes that may bring improvement.”
Puterbaugh noted that cognitive-behavioral strategies tend to be very effective for sleep disturbances, and do not carry the risk of overdose or side effects like medication. “There is a growing body of research regarding the efficacy of cognitive behavioral, psycho-educational, and behavioral interventions in treating insomnia.” Puterbaugh added, “Continued research of specific protocols can help the counseling professions to define best practices supported by scientific research. In the interim, counselors’ current skills, enhanced by insights from the psychological and medical literature, are invaluable assets in addressing the national crisis of poor sleep.”
Puterbaugh, Dolores. “Searching for a Good Night’s Sleep: What Mental Health Counselors Can Do About the Epidemic of Poor Sleep.” Journal of Mental Health Counseling33.4 (2011): 312-26. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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