Looking for a way to expand your practice and help people improve quickly? Consider getting trained in behavioral sleep medicine (BSM), a branch of health psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that research shows can help people overcome sleep problems safely and effectively.

As one example, the BSM treatment for insomnia-cognitive behavioral therapy-is as or more effective than sleeping pills, studies show. BSM practitioners successfully treat many other sleep-related conditions as well, including sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, shift-work difficulties and pediatric sleep problems, BSM experts say.

The demand is huge, notes oncology researcher Edward J. Stepanski, PhD, who chaired the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) task force that created the original BSM certification.

"There's a gigantic patient population in need of these kinds of services," he says.

Despite BSM's proven successes, there's a serious shortage of qualified BSM practitioners, especially psychologists, says Michael Perlis, PhD, who directs the Sleep Research and Neurophysiology Laboratory at the University of Rochester Medical Center. There are about 1,100 accredited sleep-disorder centers in the United States, and only about 115 practitioners certified in BSM, he notes. Standard treatment tends to be sleeping pills, and many people are leery of taking them because of their potential for side effects or habit formation, he adds.

Of all BSM practitioners, psychologists are particularly well-equipped to provide these services because of their expertise in working with clients over time to achieve a goal and in diagnosing psychological co-morbidity, rampant in those with sleep disorders, says one of BSM's founders, Art Spielman, PhD, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the City College of the City University of New York.

Fortunately, getting trained is easy, particularly if you already have expertise in CBT, behavioral medicine or health psychology, says Wilfred R. Pigeon, PhD, assistant director of the University of Rochester's sleep lab and chair of the AASM's BSM committee, which credentials BSM practitioners. While it is optimal to gain the BSM certification (visit www.aasmnet.org/BSM.aspx), short-term training may provide enough education and hands-on experience to become an expert, especially when coupled with supervision, he says. Options include:

Once you're trained, write or visit sleep-disorder centers and primary-care practices in your area, describe your expertise and offer your services on a referral basis, Stepanski advises. You can also apply to work full time at a center, and many BSM experts conduct research as well, he notes.

Once you've shown you can helppeople, referrals will start pouring in, Stepanski predicts. "There are lots of physicians who work in sleep centers who would be thrilled to have someone to send their insomnia patients to," he says. "Psychologists with expertise in the area could promote themselves as insomnia experts and get a good amount of business."

Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N.Y.