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Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Hoag’s Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute Proves Successful, Even During Pandemic

“It was helpful to meet with the doctors and the other patients who have similar issues. It was comforting to know you’re not alone, it’s common,” she said.

When the pandemic hit, Stephanie Rossman was put on furlough and eventually lost her job. Stress grew exponentially.

But Stephanie, who has battled insomnia her entire adult life, was able to sleep at night.

After completing Hoag’s six-week Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Voltmer Sleep Center, Stephanie alleviated her insomnia and improved her quality of life – at precisely the moment when many people were beginning to toss and turn.

“I was just coming off the program, when the lockdown started,” she said. “The program was so beneficial during this time. It helped to have that structure, and to always have my notes to fall back on.”

The six-week program, now offered online during COVID-19, uses cognitive behavioral therapy and other techniques to better understand the causes of insomnia and give patients the tools they need to improve their sleep.

The pandemic has ruined sleep for a lot of people. One study out of China suggested a 37% increase in the rates of clinical insomnia after COVID-19 struck. Researchers are calling it “coronasomnia.” Stephanie considers herself lucky.

“I think it’s great that Hoag has a whole wing dedicated to sleep issues,” she said. “They’ve created these different programs to help you. You have this whole network you can reach out to when you need it.”

Stephanie began seeking medical help for sleep four years ago, when she was diagnosed with sleep apnea. Jay Puangco, M.D., service chief of the Hoag Voltmer Sleep Center at the Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute, fitted her with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. A common therapy for sleep apnea, CPAP machines gently pushes air through the mouth and nose via a small mask that is worn during sleep. The CPAP machine allowed Stephanie to get better quality sleep, but falling asleep still proved problematic.

“I’d read books and articles and taken different medications over the years, but I still hadn’t had any success,” she said. “I tried different wind-down rituals, like taking a hot bath. But I was taking baths five nights out of seven, and I would still sit in bed awake all night.”

When she learned that Hoag was offering the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, Stephanie eagerly signed up. The accountability of being part of a group program helped her immensely, and Stephanie was drawn to the insights and compassion of Lauren Bennett, Ph.D., the clinical neuropsychologist who ran the sessions.

“It was helpful to meet with the doctors and the other patients who have similar issues. It was comforting to know you’re not alone, it’s common,” she said. “One of the most helpful aspects was having a [clinical sleep monitor] to measure activity. It tracked our sleep, what time we went to bed, when we woke up at night. Logging and tracking sleep helped me to understand my sleep better.”

The program also gave Stephanie tools such as meditation and a deeper understanding of sleep hygiene, good habits that can promote better sleep.

“I learned that it’s important to not have a clock in your bedroom or look at your phone to see what time it is. Don’t watch TV in the bedroom and only go to bed when you’re tired,” she said. “Trying to go to bed at the same time every day and waking up at the same time no matter how tired you are is also important.”

Over the past few months, Stephanie has referred to her notes several times to revisit the tools she learned and refresh her memory.

“I would recommend anyone who struggles to take the course,” she said. “It was not a huge time commitment, and it really helped to have that insider information from the doctors and feedback from people who are going through what you’re going through.”