Archive for the ‘behavioral treatment’ category

Similarities between Childrens Sleep and Gambling?

January 30, 2014

Okay, you may think this is a stretch.  What similarities could there possibly be between children’s sleep and gambling?  Well, let’s talk about it.

Remember from a psychology class the idea of “intermittent reinforcement?”  This is when a behavior is only sometimes rewarded.  Researchers found that in animals, if a behavior was only rewarded about 50% of the time, that behavior would persist longer than if the action always gave a reward.  The same is thought to be true in human beings. 

We see this in gambling, because the gambling behavior is only rewarded by winning on an occasional basis, people will continue gambling for long durations in the hope of getting the reward.

Let’s relate this to helping your young child learn to fall asleep on their own.  After the bedtime routine you say “Goodnight” to your child, leave the room and close the door.  However, your child prefers to fall asleep with you there, so gets up and comes out to get you.  You return to the bedroom with your child, tuck them in, say “Goodnight” leave the room and close the door.  And the cycle repeats, with your child coming to get you, and both of you returning to the bedroom. 

As the night wears on, you are becoming tired, and think “well, if I just lay down with my child until he is asleep, I’ll finally be able to get some rest myself.”  If you sometimes stay with the child until he is asleep, and not other times, you’ve just given intermittent reinforcement, which will keep the child’s behaviour of seeking you out at bedtime to persist.

So for parents, first decide what the ideal scenario and expectations are for your child.  Then, be consistent so there is no “intermittent reinforcement” of the bedtime behaviors you don’t want.   Writing down the plan so that both parents are in agreement, and so you can remember and stay motivated when you are tired can make all the difference.

“Sleep Deprived in Seattle” in Seattle magazine

July 14, 2012

It was a pleasure to talk with journalist Sheila Cain about my approach to treating sleep disorders. The article is now published in Seattle magazine’s Top Doc issue (July).

My favorite excerpt is: “My primary care doctor gave me a printout of things to try, then told me to go home and do them,” Crocker said. “With Dr. Darley, we worked on a very individualized plan that was specific to me.”

The thing I love most is the way in which each person’s sleepless story is unique, even if each one is coming in for what appears to be the same ‘insomnia’ complaint.  Taking the time in the first appointment to really understand how the sleep problem developed, how it impacts their quality of life, and the individual lifestyle makes all the difference in making an individual treatment plan that works.

Sometimes in an appointment a patient and I will have moments where we are communicating so clearly, heart to heart, and getting to the root of the sleeplessness. Those times I imagine if someone took a picture there’d be a big light bulb over both of us. Those break through moments make this work worth every effort.

You can read the full article here: http://www.seattlemag.com/article/sleep-deprived-seattle

Curing Insomnia is Like Climbing a Mountain

June 20, 2012

Being unable to sleep can be very distressing, especially when it’s an acute episode. One analogy that works when I think about treating insomnia is that Curing Insomnia is Like Climbing a Mountain.

Think about going for a hike up a mountain to the scenic view from the peak. You look at the paths that lead to the top, and choose the one that’s best for you. Your choice is based on where you came from, your preferences (a long gradual climb, or a short steep one), and your other abilities or conditions. Once you choose your path you stick with it, knowing that if you switch to another path, that horizontal movement is not getting you any closer to the goal.

It’s helpful to think of curing insomnia in a similar way, that you look at the treatment options available to you, and choose the one that’s the best fit. Once you’ve selected the treatment you want, stick with it long enough for it to be effective. Sometimes when people are in an acute episode of insomnia it is tempting to try different treatments, each for a short time. What’s more effective is to give a reasonable trial of a treatment approach (several weeks or a month at least), before switching paths. Knowing that insomnia is cured one night at a time, bit by bit, just like climbing a mountain can help keep you calm and focused on the end goal.

Here’s to the view from the top, and the peaceful sleep at the end of the path!

Does a Hot Bath Help Sleep?

May 24, 2012

Many people ask me “Does a warm bath help sleep, or is that just a myth?” The research shows . . .

Yes, it seems to help somewhat. Medical research has investigated the impact of both baths and foot baths on sleep. One study in older people with sleep disturbance found that a 40 minute footbath at 41C decreased wakefulness in the second nonREM sleep period. Women undergoing chemotherapy for cancer have also found increased sleep quality with a warm footbath. Another study done in elderly insomniacs found that a full-body bath (immersed to the mid-chest) for 30 minutes at 40-41C did increase deep sleep, and caused people to experience a good night sleep. .

How does a warm bath improve sleep? Human body temperature is not constant, but varies with a consistent circadian rhythm.  There is a slight dip in body temperature at approximately 1pm, and then a more significant drop in the evening hours.  We get that sleepy feeling as our body temperature drops. The bath effectively raises our body temperature, and the subsequent drop helps sleep. The bath should be about 60-90 minutes before bedtime.

Of all the means you can use to improve your sleep, this one seems one of the most simple, with the least possible negative side effects. This is a good therapy to try first before using other, more invasive medicine.

Sleep Interruptions – Not so Trivial!

April 25, 2012

Many people talk to me about their difficulties sleeping, either difficulty falling asleep initially, or returning to sleep in the middle of the night, or in some cases waking up before they want to start the day.

One question that can be very helpful in this situation is “what woke you?” or “what prevented you from falling asleep?”  Surprisingly often, there is a clear environmental disturbance that is interrupting sleep.

Here are some of the external sleep interruptions I’ve heard of over the years:
– a snoring, or moving, bedpartner who may have a sleep disorder of their own
– bedpartner who gets into bed later, or who gets up earlier, thus waking up the person experiencing insomnia
– dog’s collar jingling
– cat asking for attention by scratching on the bedroom door
– outdoor lights that turn off and on with movement (hate those!)
– children in the bed, snuggled right up against the patient who then is uncomfortable
– an appliance or toy that beeps
– the cell phone, often a problem when it is used as an alarm clock
. . . and the list could easily go on.

When you are working to improve your sleep, you first want to eliminate as many of these interruptions as possible. I recently was working with a woman struggling to sleep well, waking 2-4 times each night. When asked “what wakes you in the night” she identified that sometimes her husband’s snoring woke her. We dialed down into that a little more, and she estimated that his loud snoring is responsible for half of her wakings, and realized looking back on it that when he’s away she does sleep better. Another person, a mother, said that she’s often squished between her children during sleep, and has no sleep problem if she has the bed to herself.

When you are working to improve your sleep, a helpful first step is to see if any external factor is interrupting or preventing you from sleep. Systematically resolve those interruptions, and then re-assess. You may find that those interruptions you were tolerating are not so trivial!

Cautions About Sleep Medications

February 13, 2012

In my office, people who are taking many sleep medications for long-term use often come in looking for alternatives. In naturopathic practice there is a place for medications in the ‘Therapeutic Order.’ In naturopathic medicine the ‘least force’ treatment is used which will be effective. For instance, behavioral medicine will be used for insomnia first. Of course, behavioral strategies may not work for each person, so then herbal or nutrient therapy may be used next, and then pharmaceuticals.

Recently a person came in who had been using a combination of four sleep medications over the last 10 years. He had been alternating the medications on his own schedule as they became ineffective, and to avoid the need to increase dosage. Here was his regimen:
Alprazolam (Xanax) at 4am at his early am wakening to get another 3 hours of sleep. Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine hypnotic. Side effects include an increase in depression. When stopping the medication rebound insomnia can occur. Most of the hypnotics should not be taken with alcohol.
Zolpidem (Ambien) or Eszopiclone (Lunesta) Both are non-benzodiazepine hypnotics. Ambien is long-lasting, and people should be sure to have a full 7-8 hours in bed after taking it. Lunesta is one of the few medications approved for use on long-term basis.
Clonazepam (Klonopin) which is a long-acting benzodiazepine.
Even with these medications he was having interrupted sleep and found his sleep to be unrestful.

Our approach was to first use behavioral strategies to make his sleep robust and restful. Once he was sleeping well, we designed a schedule in collaboration with his PCP to taper down off the medications slowly. In this way we were able to avoid rebound insomnia and other withdrawal symptoms.

So, if you are struggling with insomnia, use the ‘least force’ treatment strategy that will solve your sleep problem. If you are recommended a sleep prescription, find out how long that medication can be safely used, any drug interactions to be aware of, and the typical withdrawal symptoms.

Sleep Health in ‘Whole Living’

September 27, 2011

Recently I spoke with journalists at ‘Whole Living’ along with other sleep specialists. It’s a great article, filled with information and skills that adults need to sleep well. Here’s a few highlights:
– Go to bed at your ideal bedtime
– Create a great place to sleep
– Avoid alcohol, the snooze button and oversleeping
– Learn to calm yourself back to sleep
More information on the many ways sleep impacts your health (think weight gain, heart disease, and wrinkles) can be found in the full article in the October issue. http://www.wholeliving.com/


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