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The psychology of sleep


Sometimes, behavioral or psychological factors may contribute to your child’s sleep problems. Children’s Mercy has a specialized Sleep Psychology and Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic where you can meet with our sleep psychologist if you or your health care provider feels like this would be beneficial for your child.

A sleep psychologist with specialized training in the behavioral and psychological aspects of a child’s sleep will see your child. These aspects can include:

  • Bedtime refusals, nighttime fears, nightmares or night terrors.
  • Challenging sleep habits and sleep schedules.
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep without a caregiver/parent present.
  • General insomnia (difficulty sleeping).
  • Psychological factors that may be affecting sleep (like anxiety, depression, stress).

Treatment is usually short-term (2-6 sessions) depending on the presenting problem(s).

The sleep psychologist also helps children and families implement recommendations made by your sleep team to manage your child’s medical sleep diagnoses, like narcolepsy or obstructive sleep apnea/CPAP therapy, or provides strategies to help with taking medication/pill swallowing.

The combination of behavioral and medical therapy is often the most successful path to improvement for children with these type of sleep problems.

Since every child’s sleep problems are unique, we provide tailored behavioral interventions based on well-tested treatments that compliment medical sleep therapies to help our patients and families improve their sleep and daytime functioning.

Kevin C. Smith, PhD

Understanding sleep psychology

Sleep psychology, also known as behavioral sleep medicine (BSM), has existed as a specialty for decades. Our sleep psychologist is board certified in BSM. This branch of psychology addresses how behavioral and psychological factors affect your child’s health—in particular, their sleep.

Even if your child does not typically see a psychologist or have a mental health diagnosis, our sleep psychologist can provide short-term, targeted sleep interventions that work alongside the recommendations from your medical sleep team.

The sleep psychologist’s behavioral sleep medicine treatments are intended to complement, but not take the place of, your child’s current outpatient behavioral therapy. Therefore, if you’re currently working with a psychologist, therapist or counselor for other mental health or behavioral issues, we recommend you continue. The sleep psychologist can share notes and recommendations with your child’s other provider, with your permission.

If your child does not have a current outpatient therapist and you have additional general mental health concerns, the Sleep Team’s social workers can help you to explore available community mental health resources.

Please call the Sleep Clinic at (816) 983-6355 with any additional questions about your child’s Sleep Psychology referral.