How Can a Therapist Help Improve Your Sleep?

There are several ways that a therapist can use to help you improve your sleep. Therapists often know the background to why certain items are listed on sleep hygiene lists and help you figure out how to use them to get you a better sleeping pattern. Some of the things listed on sleep hygiene lists are not practical for certain living situations (i.e., having your bedroom only for sleeping when you are living in a tiny studio or 1-bedroom apartment) and a counsellor can help you figure out what matters.

Use Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) to help with thoughts, emotions, and beliefs interfering with sleep. This involves working with your beliefs, thoughts, and emotions to increase your sleep and help to remove mental barriers to sleep. CBT-I is an evidence-based approach to insomnia that helps improve sleep for 70-80% of people with insomnia that have tried it.

A counsellor can help with problem-solving around what affects your sleep with consideration of your personality, mental health challenges, your nervous system, living situation, work/life balance, and so on.

  • What matters to you as an individual?
  • What is stimulating to you?
  • What is your sleep routine and are there improvements that can be made?
  • What habits may be preventing you from having a good sleep?
  • Do you have a good sleep space?
  • What challenges do you have that you need to problem-solve around?

Treating mental health symptoms that could be interfering with sleep:

  • Anxiety (rumination can be stimulating)
  • Hypervigilance (can prevent you from relaxing enough to fall asleep)
  • Depression
  • Trouble relaxing
  • Bad dreams/nightmares (can make a person try to avoid sleep to avoid the bad dreams/nightmares)

A counsellor can also provide psychoeducation about sleep, teach you skills that enhance your ability to fall asleep, and techniques to work with some of the barriers that are interfering with you getting a good night’s sleep.

As with any type of therapy, therapy for sleep can only help to the extent that you apply it to your life and nighttime routine.

What is the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP)?

What is the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP)?

The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) is an evidence-based listening therapy designed to reduce sound sensitivities and improve auditory processing, behavioural state regulation, and social engagement behaviours through filtered music.

As a practical application of Polyvagal Theory, the SSP acts as a non-invasive, acoustic vagal nerve stimulator, helping to re-tune the nervous system to better support connection, collaboration, and resilience.

The SSP involves listening to specially filtered music through headphones alongside a provider, in-person or remotely. Suitable for children and adults, the SSP has demonstrated results for individuals with trauma, anxiety, sensory processing differences and more. It activates the client’s social engagement system, helping to accelerate and enhance therapeutic outcomes. It suppers physiological state regulation, allowing for greater resilience.

You can find out more information about the SSP at

Who is SSP beneficial for?

The SSP is beneficial for:

  • Trauma
  • Chronic pain
  • Anxiety
  • Long covid
  • Stress-related disorders
  • Misophonia
  • Sleep disorders
  • Overactive/underactive emotional states
  • Sensory challenges
  • Fear/phobia-related disorders
  • ADHD
  • Digestion issues related to physiological state (or stress)
  • Attention difficulties.

What is required for the SSP?

To access the SSP, you need a smartphone with the app installed. You need an account activated for remote listening by your therapist. The listening requires over-the-ear headphones without noise cancellation features (or the noise cancellation features turned off).

Doing the listening as recommended by your therapist, as your therapist will create a program plan based on your symptoms and experiences as well as how your nervous system reacts to the SSP. Check-ins with your therapists for remote listening sessions (outside of counselling sessions) to email or secure messaging.

How long will it take?

It can take anywhere from 5 days to a year, depending on your nervous system. Everyone’s nervous system is different and responds to the SSP differently. It will depend on how dysregulated your nervous system is and how your nervous system responds to the SSP. It is important to understand that it is important not to rush the process and to listen to your nervous system. Working with your therapist to get the most out of the SSP.

What does it cost? What is included?

The SSP is done alongside your weekly or biweekly sessions and I charge a one-time fee of $750 for the entire program. This covers access to the program, and the time your therapist spends outside of counselling sessions monitoring and supporting you through email and/or secure messaging. It covers up to 4 repeats of the SSP Core (needs to be 6-8 weeks between repeats of SSP Core) and continued use of SSP balance after finishing the complete SSP.

Please note if you are interested but can’t make it work financially. Contact me as I do provide a sliding scale on access to the SSP as well as my counselling sessions.

What is the process?

If you are a current client, once you decide to invest in the SSP, I will send you an assessment for you to fill out in your own time. We will take a session to fill in any needed resources, explain the psychoeducation to support the SSP and discuss how we will implement it. Generally, we will do a bit of listening during that first session to see how your nervous system is handling it. If appropriate, we will transfer the rest of the listening to remote access, with email or secure messaging check-ins, and check-ins with each of your counselling sessions.

If you are a new client, I will send you an assessment for the SSP along with your intake and informed consent forms. It will take about 2 – 3 sessions for history taking (allowing your therapist to understand what may be affecting your nervous system), resource and skill building, essential psychoeducation, and exercises to better understand your nervous system.

Once enough support has been established. We will do a bit of listening during a session to see how your nervous system responds to it before having you listen to it independently through the app with email/secure messaging support and regular check-ins during your counselling sessions.

It is important to go through the listening process as slowly as your nervous system needs. Some people may need to take breaks or do activities that are more regulating while doing their listening. Your therapist can help you to understand what to pay attention to and what the proper balance is.

Find out more:

What is Polyvagal Theory

The Vagus Nerve

The Vagus Nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body and it stretches from the brainstem to the stomach. It influences both our emotional and physiological states. It wanders throughout your body connecting with most of the organs in the body.

What is Polyvagal Theory?

The polyvagal theory was developed by Stephen Porges and recognizes a hierarchical autonomic nervous system, which evolved to help us survive through communication, connection, and collaboration.

It describes three primary physiological states of the autonomic system, guided by a division of the vagus nerve (CN X) into dorsal and ventral components.  

  • Dorsal Vagal – The dorsal vagal state responds to cues of extreme danger through immobilization and helps us to survive by shutting down important physiological functions (i.e., digestion) in the presence of a life threat. It is a state of hypoarousal that communicates that you are unreachable and can be confusing to others. It’s a story of despair where the body enters conservation mode. A person in this state may feel like they are going through the motions but not connected. They may feel alone, lost, abandoned, unreachable, hopeless or that they have disappeared.
  • Sympathetic – The sympathetic state responds to cues of danger through mobilization and helps us to survive through activation and action. It is a state of hyperarousal and high alertness where you can’t access your Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) like you are used to and are unable to truly connect with others. It is part of the spinal nervous system that regulates breath and heart rhythms. It is a story of an unsafe world and unsafe people. It is a state of looking and listening for danger and in this state, people tend to miss and misread signs of safety. There is a sense of separation and being disconnected from self, others, the world, and spirit.
  • Ventral Vagal – The ventral vagal state responds to positive cues and supports feelings of being safe and relaxed. It is the state of co-regulation and connection and where health, growth, and restoration happen. It is where the social engagement system is and engaging socially cannot happen in a state of threat. It is the state that creates healthy homeostasis, allows for hope, compassion and self-compassion and is resourced and resourceful. It is this state of cooperation that is essential for survival where you reach out for, and offer, support.

These states are on a continuum, and we can experience blended states, where a pattern of response is influenced by more than one state. You can have one state in the foreground and another in the background.

Physiological states can affect behaviour, emotions, and cognition. It can bias our perception of our environment and prepares us to be either welcoming or defensive toward other people and situations. The better we can regulate our states and the more flexibly and smoothly we can move between them, the better our health (physical, emotional, mental) will be.