Sleep Science Friday: Sleep Coaching


28 May 2021

Sleep coaching according to Holzinger & Klösch is a non-pharmacological approach for sleep disorders and sleep problems focusing on insomnia. 

Prof. Brigitte Holzinger, Director of the Institute for Consciousness and Dream Research and Founding Member of the Austrian Sleep Research Association speaks with ESRS’s Dr. Lyudmila Korostovtseva on this topic. Together they address  

  • The pillars of sleep coaching 
  • Sleep coaching execution: duration, individual vs. group 
  • Handling non-responders 
  • Sleep coaching and COVID-19 
  • The evolution of sleep coaching 

Prof. Holzinger research in sleep and psychological aspects started out by looking at the sleep of patients with an insomnia pattern of anxiety disorders, eating disorders and their sleep and dream patterns. She wanted to show that lucid dreaming was a potent tool for psychotherapy, especially as a tool for the treatment of nightmares. 

With a research project underway, she was able to lead a group of people from heavily disturbed sleep to regular sleep quality, which was considered remarkable at the time (2002) considering pharmacological solutions were the standard approach in the treatment of insomnia.  

Prof. Holzinger highlights that psychologists developed behavioural/psychological approaches to treat insomnia and were able to prove they were just as efficient as pharmacological approaches. 

In further studies, Prof. Holzinger along with neurologist Prof. Svenja Happe wanted to have a look, whether the sleep restriction program could also be applied to the patients of the neurology department who were resistant to pharmacological therapy. With great success, they all had increased at least with an hour more sleep as compared to the six weeks before, proving that psychological non-pharmacological treatment is very effective if done right, in treating insomnia. 

As a trained Gestalt therapist, Prof. Holzinger considers it an integrative approach for psychotherapy and it allows for introducing other complementary approaches that seem to be effective. 


Pillars of Sleep Coaching (based on Gestalt Therapy) 

  • CBT-I 
  • Dream Work 
  • Sleep Education 
  • Relaxation, meditation & hypnosis 

Prof. Holzinger sought to integrate CBT-I and Gestalt therapy approach to work with people in the field of psychotherapy and coaching – stating that neither is better than or more effective than the other. It is very different and it gives people an overall understanding of what the psyche might be, what psychology is and how to understand sleep, dreaming and psychodynamics. 

Even more so, combining dream work (lucid dreaming and image rehearsal therapy) with Gestalt therapy (which implicitly teaches people what to make of dreams and how to understand the dream process) was proven to be effective in the treatment of nightmares. 

Sleep education in sleep coaching is critical especially in considering psychiatry or neurology, paediatrics and pulmonology. 


What is most important to note is that sleep coaching is not a one-time solution. It sometimes requires follow-up sessions for a greater chance for improvement in the long run. And, all the aforementioned pillars are not applied at once – it is tailored to the preferences of each patient. 

Her clear mandate is to continue raising consciousness about sleep – especially amid the pandemic, it is key to remember that sleep restores our immune systems. Prof. Holzinger is a part of ICOSS 2 – looking into the long-term consequences of COVID-19 and sleep and dreams. 


Listen to Prof. Holzinger for more on Sleep Coaching


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There is a 3-semester postgraduate Sleep Coaching Programme at the Medical University of Vienna. Currently the Institute for Consciousness and Dream Research (www.traum.ac.atis also offering Webinars and a Webinar series in English on Sleep Coaching (Holzinger&Klösch). 

Selected papers published by Prof. Holzinger et al.: 

  1. Holzinger et al. (2019). Sleep coaching: non-pharmacological treatment of non-restorative sleep in Austrian railway shift workers. Arh Hig Rada Toksikol.
  2. Holzinger et al. (2020). Managing daytime sleepiness with the help of sleep coaching, a non-pharmacological treatment of non-restorative sleep. Sleep Breath.


Recent publications from ESRS members: 

  1. Salfi et al. (2021). Changes of evening exposure to electronic devices during the COVID-19 lockdown affect the time course of sleep disturbances. Sleep.
  2. Samanta et al. (2021). Sleep Leads to Brain-Wide Neural Changes Independent of Allocentric and Egocentric Spatial Training in Humans and Rats. Cereb Cortex.
  3. Strassberger et al. (2021). Beyond the AHI-pulse wave analysis during sleep for recognition of cardiovascular risk in sleep apnea patients. J Sleep Res.
  4. Onninen et al. (2021). Accumulation of sleep loss among shift-working truck drivers. Chronobiol Int.
  5. Weibel et al. (2021). Regular Caffeine Intake Delays REM Sleep Promotion and Attenuates Sleep Quality in Healthy Men. J Biol Rhythms.

Just published an article? Want your research to be featured? Saw something interesting?  Contact us at ESRS…




“The long awaited update of the Sleep Medicine Catalogue of Knowledge and Skills is now available, thanks to a consortium of European sleep medicine specialists under the leadership of Thomas Penzel. The first version was published in JSR in 2014 and the revision encompasses all major changes in our field which have taken place in the meantime. The authors are to be congratulated for their tireless efforts to put this together. This article may also be considered as the announcement for the publication of the 2nd edition of the European Sleep Medicine Textbook published by the ESRS and produced by Wiley – which will be available in July 2021 this year – watch out!”

Riemann, D. (2021). Sleep-related breathing disorders, sleep and neurology, dreaming and new catalogue of knowledge and skills for sleep medicine!. J Sleep Res.


ESRS Reminders 

Sleep Medicine Committee – Call for New Effective Members 

The Sleep Medicine Committee (SMC) deadline for its Call for New Effective Members is 31 May 2021 

There are several projects that require active and dynamic volunteers as effective members – We Need You! This is your opportunity to shape the future of Sleep Medicine in Europe. To get further information or to apply if you’re already interested, please see more details here. 


Application Deadline Approaching – 3rd Sleep Science School 

Application is open until 31 May 2021 for the third ESRS Sleep Science School, 26 September to 1 October LIVE at the CNRS Villa Clythia site in the city of Frejus at the Mediterranean Sea (South France).  

This year’s, the focus will be on The Functions of Sleep and will be a full week of in-depth lectures & presentations and interactive workshop sessions led by a faculty of international sleep experts. For more information on who can apply and how to apply –  here are additional application details.