Alumna Bridges Natural Medicine and Sleep Health

Headshot of Dr. Darley

Sleep is a common complaint, and usually it’s because we’re not getting enough of it. Maybe the reason we always talk about sleep is because it dictates how we feel and function for the rest of the day. If you put yourself in the “sleep deprived” category, then you may want to meet Catherine Darley, ND (’02), a passionate and enthusiastic Bastyr alumna who is reaching out to help people “Sleep Well. Naturally.”

That line dominates the website for the Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine, which Dr. Darley opened in 2003 after graduating with a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University. Her interest in sleep medicine actually is what led her to Bastyr, where she says she hoped to “bridge the field of sleep health and naturopathy.”

Now, in addition to her work with the Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine, Dr. Darley also maintains a private practice where she individualizes a care plan for each patient to help them overcome sleep disorders.

Dr. Darley recently was featured in the Seattle Magazine article “Sleep Deprived in Seattle,” which highlighted her work helping patients overcome sleep deprivation from shiftwork sleep disorder. You can read more about Dr. Darley and her study of sleep in this Q-and-A:

If I were to come into your clinic, what would my experience look like?

I work with people of all ages, from infant to elderly.  Most patients come to see me when they are having difficulty falling asleep, or are dozing off during the day but awake at night. Using the naturopathic approach I help solve their sleep problems.  It’s important to take into account the whole person. For instance, I will ask them about other diseases or conditions they might have, and other lifestyle choices that could be contributing factors to their sleep difficulties. Research has shown that sometimes even loneliness can affect our sleep. Then I will continue to ask patients about their social health; what are their hobbies or things that give them joy? This helps me to create a sleep plan that fits their specific lifestyle.  Behavioral sleep medicine is a cornerstone of my work, and I also use botanical and nutritional medicine.

Tell me more about how you are “bridging the fields of sleep health and naturopathy.”

I like to envision myself with a foot in naturopathy, and the other in specialized sleep medicine so I can help valuable information go in both directions. My role in natural sleep health requires a great appreciation for the knowledge and viewpoints on both sides. Bridging these fields starts with education: because people spend such a large part of life in sleep, and there is such a high percentage of people with insomnia or sleep apnea, I believe it’s important that every physician is educated about sleep health. This provides an opportunity for development of sleep medicine in the naturopathic world; and for conventional doctors to learn more about effective behavioral and natural therapies rather than immediately turning to pharmaceuticals.

What did you take away from your experiences at Bastyr that help you in your practice today?

I found so much inspiration in the faculty members as they gave our patients great, in-depth, personal care. They taught me that a strength we have in naturopathy is to be approachable, and really have time to get to know our patients on a personal level. Clinical faculty members like Dr. Jamey Wallace were always so great at putting patients at ease and connecting, it was a fabulous model.

Since I went to Bastyr knowing I wanted to be a naturopathic sleep specialist, it was wonderful to have the support and opportunity to focus individual projects on sleep. Bastyr encouraged me to train in sleep with conventional physicians and that’s how I completed a one-month preceptorship at Stanford University. Now, I regularly get referrals from other sleep specialists because there is a growing appreciation for the in-depth personal care that the naturopathic model allows us to provide to patients.