All About Sleep

Below you will find some articles written by the Towards Better Sleep facilitators Kathryn Smith and Dr Curt Gray. You can also stay tuned with articles and information via our Facebook page 

What to Expect from Group Therapy

Group therapy can be confronting and off-putting for some people; let’s face it, talking to strangers about your struggles is not for everyone. But when it comes to treating insomnia or eating problems, it’s really very effective, enabling people with similar personal problems but completely different life experiences to share and learn from one another.

Most groups and in particular, our insomnia program, Towards Better Sleep, offer small groups of no more than 9 participant the opportunity to learn about insomnia treatment approaches in an intimate and confidential setting. Towards Better Sleep, is run over four, one hour sessions typically spread out over 6 to 8 weeks.

With the guidance of two experienced facilitators, participants come away from the program equipped with clinically proven methods for better sleep. Once more, the group setting allows participants to gain a new perspective on sleep and learn how others might deal with their individual situations.

Towards Better Sleep facilitators, Dr Curt Gray (Psychiatrist) and Kathryn Smith (Clinical Psychologist) have been running the group for over 15 years and have witnessed first-hand the profound results of the cognitive behavioural therapy program.

“When you are struggling with something like ongoing insomnia, it can be hard to believe that anyone else can be doing it as tough as you but once they start the program, they quickly see how common their experiences are”, says Kathryn Smith.

“When you are surrounded with people who have taken the courage to reach out for help and take charge of their life, there is a high level of respect and validation amongst the group”, notes Ms Smith.

Another key benefit of group therapy is the extra change in your back pocket, with it being a more cost-effective way to see a therapist. You might also find when surrounded by others who are in a similar situation, that there is an added level of support that cannot be found in individual therapy.

Working in a group to overcome problems, like insomnia can also reveal personal insights that you may not otherwise have recognised. Facilitators work to ensure that group therapy is a safe, confidential and welcoming space, allowing you to learn more about yourself to improve your outlook and general wellbeing as well as the task at hand.

In 2019…I will get more sleep

By Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist

Is getting more sleep one of your New Year resolutions? If so, well done for prioritising your health, with sleep being the absolute pillar, impacting your physical, emotional and mental health. But perhaps you need to reframe your thinking and rather than aim for more sleep, aim for better sleep. Remember, not all sleep is created equal. Often people quantify good sleep by hours spent asleep, when the quality of sleep is far more important.

So how many hours of sleep do we need? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine states working adults should get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. However, this varies between people and can be gauged by how you are feeling during the day. In fact, it is your activity, thinking and behaviour during the day, that is pivotal to how you will sleep at night. Worrying about sleep, is the absolute worst thing you can do for sleep. Ample physical activity, a healthy diet and screen free evenings are all good friends of sleep.

If you are finding ongoing sleeplessness is affecting your health and wellbeing, talking to a Clinical Psychologist can be helpful in developing practical long-term strategies to manage insomnia. The use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to treat insomnia has proven effective in that it takes a holistic approach looking at social, emotional and environmental aspects of a person’s life to unfold what is causing the sleep problem.

Clinical Psychologist Kathryn Smith and Psychiatrist Dr Curt Gray have been effectively treating insomnia with CBT through their long-standing group programme, Towards Better Sleep. Unlike sleep medication, CBT is not a quick fix and takes time to work, which is why the programme spans across 6 weeks, focusing on education, behavioural techniques, correcting faulty thinking and relaxation strategies.

A group setting has proven an effective setting to treat people with sleep problems, allowing participants to share their experiences and learn from one another in a more cost-effective way.

The next Towards Better Sleep programme commences on 14th February 2019 from our Morningside practice. For more information or to register your interest in the programme, visit or email

Coffee- Friend by Day- Enemy by Night

By Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist

Coffee- Most people live for it and there has never been a better time to own a cafe, with Australian coffee culture deemed one of the most advanced in the world.

According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation Australia, 1 billion cups of coffee are consumed per year at cafes, restaurants and other outlets in Australia in 2006, with consumption of coffee doubling over the past 30 years.

But what does all this caffeine consumption mean for our sleep? With sleep problems also on the rise, affecting 33-45% of Australian adults, we must look to our lifestyle for possible causes.

The hard truth is caffeine is a drug, one that promotes alertness by inhibiting the sleepy chemicals in our brain. And although it’s perky effects kick in very quickly (within 30-70mins), its effects also linger in the system for 3 to 7 hours and p to 24 hours before fully vacating the premises. (source: Sleep Health Foundation).

Caffeine is also a diuretic and may keep you running to the loo at night. So if coffee rules your day but plaques you by night, you may want to reconsider the timing of those flat whites.  

Quest for Rest: As seen in Q-Weekend Courier Mail featuring the Towards Better Sleep program

Read the article as a pdf

Might the booze if you want a good snooze!

By Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist, Psychology Consultants

Silly season is just around the corner and for many of us this means kicking off the heels and having a bit of fun. In essence, this means more food, more booze and less sleep. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right…for some, it absolutely can be.

At risk of sounding like a major kill joy, alcohol is very bad for sleep health, coupled with decadent festive food and a change in evening routine and you’ve got the trifecta of sleep inhibitors. But like all things in life, moderation is the key and one or two bad night’s sleep is not the end of the world, especially if you had fun in the process. In fact, stressing about sleep, is the very opposite of what we preach through our insomnia program ‘Towards Better Sleep’. It is, however, important to recognise, that if you are already struggling with your sleep, be prepared to accept that the festive period may bring some additional challenges.

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol does not lead to the mother of all sleeps and this is due to a number of reasons. Whilst having a night cap, may help you drift off into la-la land, your slumber will be rudely interrupted, by an alcohol withdrawal effect. Alcohol has been known to prevent a deeper state of sleep and wakes us earlier than usual, throwing your sleep cycle out of whack. Combined with a higher than usual intake of sugar and fat, albeit via delicious festive treats, and you can kiss a good night’s sleep goodbye. Considering these nights as a bit of a write off, is a reasonable approach, as stressing about how you are going to feel and cope without sleep is counterproductive.

Burning the candles at both ends for weeks on end, however, is not our recommended guide to the festive season. Making some responsible drinking choices and carefully selecting which Christmas function you really want or need to attend, will give you some time to catch up on sleep and resume a healthier regime.  Keeping up the exercise, drinking plenty of water and otherwise eating a healthy diet will also help keep things in kilter.

After a long year of work, it’s important to take some time to rest, recoup and prepare for the new year ahead. Partying like its ‘99, might not be the best way to do so, with an inevitable full body burn out likely to prevail. Although, the festive period can be fun, it can also bring a great deal of stress with family and financial commitments and end of year work deadlines. Being kind to yourself by getting plenty of rest, taking time to reflect, plan and project, will do amazing things for your mind, body and soul.

Why Being Angry Could Be Making You Sick!

Image By: Craig Sunter

By Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist

We all get a little worked up at times and let’s face it, sometimes we ‘fly off the handle’ and this is okay. Feeling angry is a normal human instinct; a hard-wired response in our brains but for some, anger is like a raging inferno ready to burst into flames at any time and this is not a healthy way to live.

Recent studies have shown that this type of uncontrollable anger not only affects your immediate quality of life but can put you at risk of long term health concerns including anxiety, depression and even cardiovascular disease.

The good news is there is a way forward and the first step is identifying the problem and then learning to manage your anger.

So why manage your anger if it’s a normal human instinct I hear you say? Older theories encouraged venting anger as a good release and way to get past the problem, however researchers have now found that this only exacerbates the problem fueling the internal inferno for future outburst.

This is not to say we should ‘bite our tongue’ but managing anger and expressing it in a more controlled way provides a release without the negative side effects, allowing you to focus on the underlying issues triggering anger.

Clinical Psychologist, Kathryn Smith says; “Part of anger management is mindfulness, being aware of your body and recognising the triggers that make you angry.

The next step is more technical and involves personalise thought response before, during and after an episode, that allow you to tame the beast, so to speak.”

Each person’s management style will be different but here are some suggested thoughts that might help you keep your cool and minimise the aftermaths: 

1. Just breathe. It sounds simple but taking a deep breath in and exhaling gives you time to think before you respond.

2. I am not going to let them get to me. I am in control of this situation.

3. I am not going to judge them; their opinion is not important to me.

4. Let’s not take this so seriously. Is there a funny side to this?

5. I can’t change them or this situation with anger but I can change my thinking.

If you or someone you know has problems with anger, seeking professional help will allow you to develop personalised management strategies and address underlying emotional and psychological issues. Psychology Consultants has a large and diverse team of Clinical Psychologists based at Newmarket and Morningside who are committed to helping people from all walks of life with their emotional and psychological hurdles. Visit the Brisbane Psychologist page of our website to learn more


How ‘Downward Dog’ might have you catching more zzz’s. 


In fear of sounding like a broken record, meditation really does help you sleep better. The problem is, many people don’t know how to meditate and don’t prioritize the time for it.

Enter the ancient art of Yoga. We have all witnessed the clichéd downward dog pose of a bendy lady in her ‘active wear’, but actually this makes true use of the fashion craze. In reality, bendy lady might be getting a better night’s sleep than her discerning onlookers. Here’s why:

Insomnia is complex, as it’s not just a physical disorder; it encompasses our whole being including our emotional and psychological state. That is why worrying during the day about a lack of sleep is counterproductive and will only heighten anxiety levels at night. According to the Medical Journal of Australia, recent surveys reveal that between 13 – 33% of the adult population regularly has difficulty either getting to sleep or staying asleep. But perhaps if more of us jumped on board the self care bandwagon we might find ourselves catching more zzz’s.

According to Washington DC based Sleep Foundation, a lack of physical activity as well as stress and too much screen time are the leading causes of sleep disturbance. Clinical Psychologist and co-founder of the sleep program, Towards Better Sleep, Kathryn Smith says “Combining physical activity and meditation through yoga, is for many people a very effective way to help the mind and body relax. The meditative effects of yoga on the body are very similar to the process of falling asleep, whereby the heartbeat and brain waves become slower.”

One of the reasons yoga is so effective in relaxation is due to its concentration on breathing. As you hold the move and draw in and out, it’s a physical statement for letting go of the day’s woes.

Although many people find the thought of yoga intimidating and beyond their physical reach, there are many websites and online forums that teach relaxation poses for every level that can be performed in the comfort of your own home. One such website is:

If yoga is not for you, that’s okay, you will know what makes you feel relaxed. That can be the easy part. Finding time and ensuring you allow yourself that time is the tricky part.

For more tips and information on sleep, visit our insomnia page


Catching your forty winks

Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist

insomnia5We all know how it feels when you’ve not had enough sleep- tired, cranky, irritable, unproductive and overwrought. Even the simplest task can seem overwhelming and this is largely due to the fact that your brain and cognitive function is not operating at optimal levels.

Although bouts of bad sleep are normal and to be expected in our fast paced society, chronic sleep problems and ongoing insomnia (difficulties with sleep for 3 months or more) should not be ignored. According to the National Sleep Foundation, evidence suggests that people with insomnia have a ten-fold risk of developing depression and an increased risk of other co-morbid conditions.

So how do you break this vicious cycle of bad sleep, poor health and its myriad of negative repercussions? Research suggests that the most effective long-term treatment for insomnia is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a psychology based treatment that addresses behaviour and thinking around sleep. Sleep Specialist, Dr David Cunnington recently conducted research into CBT as treatment for insomnia. His research, as conveyed on his website, Sleep Hub revealed that on average people went to sleep 19 minutes faster and stayed asleep 26 minutes longer after CBT-I.

Clinical Psychologist Kathryn Smith and Psychiatrist Dr Curt Gray have been effectively treating insomnia with CBT through their long-standing group programme, Towards Better Sleep. Unlike sleep medication, CBT is not a quick fix and takes time to work, which is why the programme spans across 6 weeks, focusing on education, behavioural techniques, correcting faulty thinking and relaxation strategies.

A group setting has proven an effective setting to treat people with sleep problems, allowing participants to share their experiences and learn from one another in a more cost effective way. If you think you could benefit from group therapy, talk to your GP about your suitability for the TBS programme. You can download the Direct Referral Form for your GP and the TBS Information for clients brochure for all the details of the programme.

Too Busy to Sleep?

bigstock-Businessman-asleep-on-his-desk-16988432-300x200By Dr Curt Gray, Psychiatrist, Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist, &, Dr David Cunnington, Sleep Physician.

When asked the question “So are you busy?” most of us, unless on holidays, boastfully answer, albeit with complete exasperation, “Yes I am run off my feet!”. Although this response is considered ‘normal’ and being busy is seen as virtuous and productive, it’s not necessarily good for our long-term health and wellbeing.

In fact research has shown that ongoing periods of stress can lead to chronic health problems including insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Sleep physician Dr David Cunnington revealed in research published in 2014 ‘Sleep’ Christopher Drake and the team at Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, showed a strong risk factor for the development of chronic insomnia (trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep for more than 3 months) is ongoing stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Whilst episodes of acute stress can throw sleep out for days, once those episodes pass, sleep usually returns to normal. But, if their acute stress episodes occur on a back of being busy, or chronic stress, people were more likely to develop chronic insomnia.

Keeping our busy lives in check is difficult but being mindful of the importance of sleep in general wellbeing is an important step in avoiding the development of chronic insomnia, depression, anxiety, and other illnesses. Clinical Psychologist Kathryn Smith has treated insomnia for over 10 years, and she says seeking help from a health professional before sleeplessness becomes a chronic problem is a smart move, as early intervention can prevent the downward spiral of mental and physical health.

Ms Smith says “Understanding that a lot of the tiredness in insomnia is not from lack of sleep, but from worry about not sleeping or too much ‘nervous energy’, is an important concept and can shift the focus on to strategies that work, rather than continuing to get more anxious and focused on sleep”.

It’s easy to say ‘slow down’ but actually doing it is more difficult. Understanding that by reducing the ‘nervous energy’ that keeps us powering through the day we will improve the quality of sleep at night is the first step.

Dr Curt Gray, Psychiatrist and long standing facilitator of sleep programme Towards Better Sleep provides 5 tips for keeping our busy lives in check and sleep intact:

  1. Stop focusing on the night and start thinking about what you are doing during the day. Overanalysing the night routine and obsessing over how much sleep you’re getting exacerbates the problem. Focus on being more relaxed, healthy and mindful during the day and leave your work woes at the front door.
  2. Eat breakfast, it awakens the senses and lets your body know it’s the start of the day. Eating at regular times and not within an hour of bedtime is also recommended.
  3. Take 10 minutes during the day to be mindful of daily stress and pressure and try to put it in perspective. Take some time to yourself to sit, relax, take a walk or meditate.
  4. Take regular exercise but not within a few hours of bedtime. I’m too busy to exercise I hear you say? Even incidental exercise has been proven to reduce stress and improve sleep, so take the stairs or get off the bus one stop early.
  5. Lastly, take time out for yourself, even 10 minutes a day. ‘Time out’ comes in many forms and is different for everyone, you will know what is right for you.

If you are finding ongoing sleeplessness is affecting your health and wellbeing, talking to a Clinical Psychologist can be helpful in developing practical long-term strategies to manage insomnia. The use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to treat insomnia has proven effective in that it takes a holistic approach looking at social, emotional and environmental aspects of a person’s life to unfold what is causing the sleep problem.

Dr David Cunnington has been involved in ongoing research on using CBT for insomnia. Recent research published in June in Annals of Internal Medicine showed that on average people went to sleep 19 minutes faster and stayed asleep 16 minutes longer after CBT. This is similar to the effects of sleeping tablets but without the long lasting negative effects.

Group programs like Towards Better Sleep, utilise CBT and focus on sleep education, behavioural techniques, correcting faulty thinking and relaxation strategies. Group therapy in treating insomnia has proven effective as it offers participants the opportunity to share stories and learn from the experiences and ideas of other insomnia sufferers, in a private and confidential setting. It also allows therapists to treat more people in a cost effective way. To register for the next programme visit Towards Better Sleep 

You can also visit Dr David Cunnington’s website for more information on sleep, health and wellbeing

Why Getting Better Sleep should be your New Year Resolution 

By Clinical Psychologist, Kathryn Smith

sleep_ladyLoose weight and exercise more – sound familiar? Every year when January 1 rolls around, people from across the globe make this pledge to themselves.

But what if you changed the pledge to something much simpler – ‘sleep more’.

Sleep is the pillar for good health, so why not make it a priority in our lives? According to a survey conducted by Australian Bureau of Statistics, as a nation we are spending less time sleeping and more time working (ABS Feb 2008).

Sleep is as necessary for bodily function as food and water. It helps our body and mind restore and re-energize.

Getting better sleep will reduce stress, making you less likely to reach for the coffee and muffin, and more likely to stick to the diet and exercise plan you set on January 1!

If you’ve set goals to kick other bad habits like excessive caffeine consumption, then getting better sleep will greatly assist in achieving this too.

So here are a few tips to help you get better sleep and achieve your goals for 2015:

  1. Stay up later rather than going to bed earlier

Going to bed when you are not sleepy can start a vicious insomnia cycle. You feel anxious and frustrated that you can’t fall asleep, and then you lie awake while the problem perpetuates. It is important to differentiate sleepiness from just feeling tired. We can experience tired throughout our body, but sleepiness is simply dictated by our eyes closing and literally “getting the nods”. Sleepiness will come in waves and when we get this wave at an appropriate time at night, we need to take this cue and catch it.

  1. Avoid napping during the day if you suffer from insomnia

Whilst napping might be desirable for those that are not sleeping well during the night, a nap for those suffering from insomnia can significantly reduce your sleep drive and will make it harder to initiate or maintain sleep at a desirable time. If you are tempted to nap, keep it to 20-30 minutes, or try increasing your level of arousal to counteract feelings of tiredness, this can be as simple as standing up.

  1. Develop a regular exercise regime

We all know that exercise is good for us and will help maintain a healthy mind and body. Exercise also has the added benefit of deepening and extending our sleep. The exercise that works best for this is weight or resistance training. So start pumping that iron or turn up the exercise bike. Anytime of the day is fine however it is best to keep it a couple of hours clear of bedtime.

  1. Learn a relaxation procedure

Having balance in our lives is important. We often neglect relaxation and use the excuse of being time poor. If you are having trouble sleeping, learning a relaxation procedure can be invaluable. We only enter sleep from a state of relaxation. So if we go to bed and make relaxation our goal, sleep is likely to follow, if needed. Whilst alcohol can help us relax and maybe sleep initially, it will typically disrupt our sleep later in the night. So maybe saying no to that glass of wine or two in the evening will pay off.

  1. Keep your evenings free of technology

The main regulator of our sleep is light. It dictates when we wake and when we fall asleep. With increasing use of computers and smart phones we are exposed to more light in the evenings than we have ever been. Computers and smart phones throw out a lot of blue/green light, which can delay the onset of our sleep phase. We can combat this by wearing amber or red glasses, or simply turn off a couple of hours before bed.

Psychology Consultants run a group sleep programme, called Towards Better Sleep, designed to help people with long standing insomnia and other sleep problems. For more information on the Towards Better Sleep programme visit  the programme page here or visit


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