FEATURED TRAINEE - BRIAN CURTIS, MS
Brian Curtis is a doctoral candidate in the Clinical Health and Behavioral Medicine specialty track within the University of Utah’s Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Program. His dissertation research draws on interdisciplinary collaboration between neuroradiology, neurology, health psychology, and neuropsychology to explore the neurobiological and behavioral effects of chronic short sleep duration in so-called “habitual short sleepers”. As habitual short sleepers appear to represent 30% of working U.S. adults, Brian is particularly interested in exploring the implications of discrepancies between short sleepers’ subjective sense of their daytime functioning and more objective measures of functioning at multiple levels of analysis – from brain to behavior.
HOW DID YOU GET INTERESTED IN BSM?
As a post-baccalaureate student from 2007 to 2012, I worked with Christopher R. Jones, M.D., Ph.D. and collaborators Louis J. Ptacek, M.D., and Ying-Hui Fu, Ph.D. to explore the genetic mechanisms and behavioral phenotypes of individuals with familial circadian rhythm sleep disorders. This introduced me to Laura A. Czajkowski, Ph.D., CBSM, and the field of behavioral sleep medicine. The power of combining psychology, neurology, and genetics led me to pursue graduate training in neuroscience and genetics from 2012-2015 in the laboratory of Mario R. Capecchi, Ph.D., developing genetic tools to model human neuropsychiatric disorders in mice. Realizing my preference to devote the remainder of my training and career to clinical work with humans vs. basic bench science with mice, I have been working with my current mentor, Paula G. Williams, Ph.D., to explore the consequences of chronic short sleep duration. Truly coming full circle, I am about to complete a year long clinical clerkship in BSM with Laura A. Czajkowski, Ph.D., CBSM at the same sleep center where I was first introduced to the field of BSM 11 years ago!
WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?
My goal is to become certified in BSM and provide the highest quality, evidence-based clinical care to improve the health and wellbeing of patients and their families. To accomplish this goal, I will be applying to clinical internship sites with a strong BSM emphasis in the fall of 2019. Given the transdiagnostic nature of sleep disruption across the majority – if not all – physical and mental health disorders, I have a strong future interest in increasing public awareness and education about the science of healthy sleep and the practice of behavioral sleep medicine.
WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE FIELD IN 10 YEARS?
I would like to see the field and its practices become a more common standard of care across medical and psychological treatment settings given the immense comorbidity of sleep disruption in human health and disease. Towards accomplishing this goal, I have a particular interest in using freely available and globally accessible means (e.g., podcasts, YouTube videos) to increase awareness of sleep medicine in general, and the field of BSM in particular, to other scientists, clinicians, and the general public. As proof of principle, it’s quite encouraging that Matthew Walker, Ph.D.’s recent conversation on Joe Rogan’s podcast currently has 615,503 views after only 48 hours of being online (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwaWilO_Pig&t=908s). The public is hungry for this information. It’s up to us to provide it.
WHAT EXPERIENCES HAVE HELPED SHAPE YOUR TRAINING IN BSM?
In addition to the role of interdisciplinary collaboration, mentioned earlier, I’ve been surprised by how much my personal experiences have shaped my BSM training. Despite a decade of pestering with well-intentioned guilt trips by my mother and pleads wrapped in scientific evidence by myself, it eventually took a stroke to the brainstem for my father to finally treat his chronic obstructive sleep apnea. (Despite needing a feeding tube, he’s fine). After one week of CPAP use, he told me, “Brian, I forgot what it felt like to actually be awake” and has been CPAP compliant these past 6.5 years. Bringing in tools like Motivational Interviewing and being aware of the counterproductive “Backfire Effect” of pummeling patients with facts has helped shape my clinical approach for patients with OSA. It’s also been useful to practice what I preach, as my mother, myself, and my three older brothers were all gifted with generalized anxiety and sleep onset insomnia. It’s been useful to relate from personal experience to patients who are understandably skeptical about sleep restriction, stress reduction, or stimulus control that these strategies, although challenging, actually work.
WHAT RESOURCES HAVE HELPED TO ADVANCE YOUR TRAINING?
The Society for Behavioral Sleep Medicine website has been my go-to resource to navigate ongoing efforts towards BSM certification and to keep up to date with progress in our field (e.g., the SBSM Newsletter). I need to mention that Kathryn Hansen has been an incredible resource for me behind the scenes over the years. She helped resolve a logistical issue accessing the Behavioral Sleep Medicine journal through the Taylor and Francis website, consistently and promptly replies to questions, and most recently provided a draft compilation of clinical training sites that have a strong BSM emphasis that will be extremely helpful for my internship applications in 2019. This is a resource that will be indispensible for current and future BSM-interested trainees. Kathryn is amazing and an incredible asset to the SBSM. (I’m not just saying that as she gave me this opportunity to be profiled for the SBSM newsletter…). I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to share my background with our Society members and to be a part of this scientific and clinical community. Thank you so much.