The article previously ran in the Q4 2022 issue of A2Zzz.
Featuring Brendan Duffy, RPSGT, RST, CCSH; Geoff Eade, RPSGT, CCSH; Amy Korn-Reavis, RRT, RPSGT, CCSH; and Nicole Sondermann, RPSGT, CCSH
Sleep coaching is a rapidly expanding fields, and Certified Clinical Sleep Health (CCSH) professionals can apply their skills to a wide variety of client bases. We asked four sleep coaches with different specializations to dive into their personal approaches to coaching and sleep education, and share how they utilize their CCSH in their patients’ care.
What is your type of coaching?
Brendan Duffy (BD): I have focused on educating athletes, sports coaches and certified athletic trainers about the impact of sleep on recovery, performance and mental health. I work with clients at high school, college and professional levels.
Geoff Eade (GE): I work in durable medical equipment (DME) and compliance coaching.
Amy Korn-Reavis (AKR): I am an independent coach, working with the largest and fastest growing executive coaching company to improve their staff’s sleep and overall stress and energy levels. I do this by meeting with them about every two weeks, one on one, to help them create the changes they need using incremental, but transformational, changes.
Nicole Sondermann (NS): I provide sleep health and wellness coaching, in addition to sleep skills coaching. I work with individuals and families
What is the most effective technique you’ve used?
BD: The most effective technique is to understand what motivates athletes and sports coaches and to educate them about how sleep impacts their goals and desires.
GE: I like to start at the beginning to ensure the patient understands why they have to wear a mask. After discussing these reasons, I review basic mask-fit techniques, walk them through how the device works and give tips on dealing with challenges they may encounter.
AKR: There are several techniques that work very well in this role. I use motivational interviewing to see how ready clients are to move forward with change and understand where they are in their desire to change. I also do a lot of co-creative coaching, where we create goals for the client together and use proven techniques to achieve them. I am then there for support and accountability. These techniques are part of the overall standards used for coaching via the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC). However, if there was one thing that I have found that works best, it would be to have my clients journal not just statistics, but their stress, frustrations and anything else they may be ruminating on.
NS: I incorporate a multitude of techniques in my coaching practice, with the most effective technique being motivational interviewing. I aim to meet the client on their level of interest and motivation, with consideration as to why they are working with me. When I am working as a subcontractor for an employer or wellness company, I focus on the area their employer asks me to focus on, such as sleep and shiftwork. When I am working directly with a client, I focus on what the client wants. Clients referred to me by doctors are commonly interested in focusing on adapting to positive airway pressure (PAP) for therapy compliance and sleep-related behavioral coaching.
What are challenges you face in the audience you work with?
BD: The major challenge would be a lack of knowledge, belief or understanding as to how sleep fuels, prepares and repairs athletes both mentally and physically. Sleep is a challenge for many athletes due to the very demanding schedules that they are faced with — especially college student athletes.
GE: The biggest challenge I face is the number of patients that don’t seem to understand the “what and why” about their situation. Patients need to have buy-in to the therapy process and understand its importance. I find that once they are aware of how serious their sleep disorder is, they typically will be more compliant.
AKR: Many of my clients do not have a strong reason for change. We need to spend time finding their “why” so we can help them give up habits like watching television in bed, scrolling on their phone in bed or working right before going to sleep.
NS: When I work with multiple-home families, I find that creating and maintaining consistency in sleep routines for the children in each home is very challenging unless both sets of parents are committed to the system.
What have you tried and it failed?
BD: I don’t believe “fail” is the proper term as we truly never fail if we care — we learn and adjust. The adjustment I had to make is to coach the reality of clients' schedule, including mandated early wake-up times for practices. Some teams will not, or cannot, change the early start times due to multiple factors, which can cause sleep deprivation that builds over the sessions.
As a good sleep coach, we need to educate clients about our concerns surrounding early morning start times. We must help them strategize and manage the reality of those current early/late schedules. Of course, we hope that over time some sleep friendly adjustments will be made as they are able to do so in scheduling. That has been the welcome trend that I have seen over some seasons — they do make adjustments!
GE: I have tried many different chinstraps and they rarely work due to the air leaking through pursed lips.
AKR: I tried teaching clients about the science of sleep — what a circadian rhythm is, the science of why you need sleep — but found if I approached coaching from the emotional “why” for the change, people have more success.
NS: Coaching my close friends and family members has not proven to be the most successful, albeit not a complete failure. The more distant the relationship I have with a client, the more successful the coaching experience has been.
What continuing education has helped you become a successful coach?
BD: I believe we never stop learning and I think along with my CCSH certification, the many great webinars and helpful sleep medicine community members have been instrumental in helping me grow and learn on a daily basis.
GE: AAST has a significant amount of material to help someone become CCSH certified. Attending state and national sleep conferences is also advised — one can meet and consult with other CCSH technologists and sleep coaches.
AKR: I am always moving forward in my education as a coach. I have taken courses on helpful subjects such as basic coaching principles and positive psychology, and have also read and taken online courses
on motivational interviewing, wellness coaching and change theory. I read at least two articles a day on something to do either with sleep health or coaching. Ultimately, it was the culmination of my knowledge from going back to school to get my MBA and my background as both a respiratory therapist and sleep technologist that has made it easier to coach.
NS: The CCSH certification prepared me for the nuances of coaching in sleep medicine and I highly recommend that certification to anyone interested in working in this specialty. My graduate studies are in health education and promotion, and I find the coursework helps me gain a better understanding of the psychology and methodology of coaching.
I am currently enrolled in a coaching program at Catalyst Coaching, and I highly recommend that anyone interested in providing coaching services take a professional coaching course. It is important the coaching program is focused on health and wellness in addition to the business aspects of coaching.
What drives you to be a coach?
BD: I enjoy sleep education and sports, so it’s about passion — and I believe that shows when I speak to teams. Coaching is a great opportunity to apply my knowledge to help others excel and become not just better athletes, but healthier and happier human beings! It’s great to hear an athlete connect better sleep to better performance on the field, but it’s even better to hear them say they are mentally in a better place as a person with better sleep.
GE: I enjoy helping people find rest, especially when they don’t think they will be able to tolerate the mask and pressure.
AKR: Over the years, I can say that I’ve had so many strong people help me grow and become a better person. It was their inspiration that has helped me see what great fields coaching is. As a coach, I not only get to do something I love (helping people), but I also get to return the favor those men and women shared with me.
NS: As a sleep technologist, I can educate and encourage a patient during the appointment, but the scope of my role does not allow me to offer continued support, encouragement or any other services the patient may ask for and/or benefit from. The service I provide as a clinician is valuable, but it is a one-and-done situation. Before I became a sleep health coach, I always felt like my actual responsibility to the patient was never done.
As a clinician, I provide education, tools and encouragement to a patient. As an educator, I provide information and knowledge about sleep, but it is generalized rather than individualized. As a sleep health coach, I work together with the patient/client as they work towards reaching sleep goals, identify and overcome obstacles and offer continual support as they implement new behaviors in their sleep routine. My role as a sleep health coach satisfies my desire to provide clients with additional supportive services to encourage healthier sleep, whether it be PAP compliance or balancing sleep/wakefulness on rotating shift work. Giving someone the knowledge and tools to obtain healthy sleep is a gift that can last a lifetime. Empowering and encouraging a client to create a successful sleep routine is both rewarding and gratifying. All these facts and more drive me to do the work I do.
What advice do you have for others looking to get into coaching?
BD: Find a sleep “sub group” you are passionate about such as veterans, shift workers, corporate CEO’s, rock bands, actors, musicians, air traffic controllers, cancer survivors, police or fire services, etc. Once you determine your target group, start researching what kinds of sleep issues that group would experience. Is it jetlag, disruptive rotating schedules, use of stimulants, boredom, multiple hotel stays or digital addictions? Once you have the needs of a specific group figured out, reach out and offer to provide education based on their specific sleep needs. Be a resource as to how they can manage their sleep better to perform better in their careers. Become the “expert” for that subgroup.
GE: Don’t listen to the naysayers who deny the usefulness of the CCSH. There are many options in many industries where the CCSH provides employment opportunities, and I believe it is only the beginning.
AKR: I would suggest that anyone looking into coaching learn how to use a co-creative process to help understand what motivated your clients to seek help. I would also consider the clientele you really want to work with. Do you want to work with doctors, directly with clients or stay in the hospital? Each type of coaching has a different skill set that will help you achieve your goals.
NS: I highly recommend a sleep coach obtain the CCSH and take a professional coaching course from an accredited institution. There is a vast amount of sleep-related information on the internet, ranging from impressive to ridiculous. As sleep professionals, we can clear up many misperceptions and provide honest, reliable and credible information to our clients. I also recommend starting a blog, a website or vlog to start disseminating information.
What are your goals as a coach?
BD: My goals are the same as the athletes I coach — improve every day! I will continue to study my craft and help others with the most current and proven methods available. Sleep is such a dynamic fields, and it requires constant learning to stay on top of the almost daily advances.
GE: I want to continue helping people find rest. I enjoy learning new ideas and tactics that will help. I also want to help more people become a CCSH professional, and be involved with getting the CCSH approved for billing for their services.
AKR: My initial goal was to help as many people as I could get a good night’s sleep. My additional goal is to help other technologists who want to move into the coaching fields learn the extra skills they will need.
NS: The field of sleep medicine is constantly changing and evolving. I intend to continue my academic studies in coaching, education and health promotion. Coaching requires a shift in mindset, and a great deal of practice. My goal is to continue mastering the fine art of coaching to empower people to sleep better.
How can coaches apply their knowledge outside of the sleep lab?
BD: Anywhere we deal with people, we have a chance to educate and improve a person’s life by creating awareness of how sleep impacts all they do and all they become. As I mentioned before, coaches can work with a target audience, or they can also volunteer with various groups where their knowledge can help tremendously. I work with the national nonprofit Start School Later as their athletic liaison, and I am proud of all they have done for high school students through their efforts to promote healthy teen sleep. I am sure it has saved many lives. I am happy to assist in this noble mission and look forward to a day in the near future when all U.S. schools have healthier start times. I recommend others take that first step as every exciting journey starts with one step. It has been a lot of fun for me on my journey as a sports sleep coach — I’ve met so many wonderful athletes and made some great lifetime friends.
GE: A sleep coach can also work with health care providers, hospital/clinic organizations, athletes, professionals, trainers, public health awareness professionals and groups and any other areas of life where finding rest can be beneficial. The market for sleep is the human body. Go find someone and help them find rest!
AKR: If you are looking to move outside the lab, you need to understand what your role as a coach will be. You can coach groups of new PAP users to help them with compliance, or you might do what I did, which was moving to a direct to client approach. In that case, you will most likely need a college degree. It would also be helpful to consider taking classes in coaching, such as on wellness or life coaching education.
NS: Start by offering community awareness educational events — future clients will be in the audience. Sleep technologists have the knowledge and skill set to provide sleep health education to the public. As technology advances, skills obtained in the sleep center can be delivered directly to the public through online coaching and educational outreach. The need for sleep health education is more necessary now than ever and technologists are primed to meet the public health demand for sleep health coaching.