Changing the Way We Think About Insomnia – One YouTube Video at a Time
Daniel Erichsen, MD, saw it time and time again. Patients would come into his sleep clinic in Oregon complaining of insomnia, and he would tell them the same thing: If you don’t try to sleep, eventually you will. But they weren’t always listening.
“I got frustrated with just saying the same thing over and over,” Erichsen says. “I thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way I can communicate with a lot of people at once.’”
And thus was born Insomnia Insights, Erichsen’s YouTube channel where he espouses that in order for people to get rid of their insomnia, they need to understand why they have it and try not to let it stress them out.
“Most people that have insomnia have a predisposition to it,” he says. “They’re worried, maybe, and then something happens. They have sleepless nights for whatever reason, and they can’t sleep night after night. When they go to the common methods — melatonin, etc. — it doesn’t work. It spirals out of control. They try to get more sleep, and you should really do the opposite.”
Erichsen’s channel only has about 200 subscribers, but it’s garnered nearly 20,000 views. He said he receives emails from all over the world with people asking about their own problems with insomnia. Erichsen utilizes cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I. It’s an approved method aimed at changing sleep habits from a behavioral perspective. It also focuses on sleep hygiene and education, empowering the patient to understand why they have insomnia.
“If you just give someone a medicine and don’t explain it to them, they’re still going to have insomnia,” Erichsen said. “Explaining to people why they have insomnia is a huge reason CBT-I works. The behavioral therapy reverses a lot of things people do wrong.”
After learning about CBT-I, Erichsen decided to institute it in his own practice. So many of his patients would come in complaining of insomnia, and the majority of them have severe misconceptions about it. As he saw more and more people improving using CBT-I, he started uploading videos to his YouTube channel breaking down myths about insomnia and giving them tips on how to help their sleep.
“The first month was bizarre,” he says. “I was taping myself, and I knew not a single person was watching. But little by little, I picked up subscribers. The first comment, I was like ‘This is great. I have to keep going.’”
Now, Erichsen receives at least an email a day from someone who stumbled across his channel looking for insomnia relief. That’s what Erichsen’s end goal was: to be able to reach those who were struggling with insomnia without an idea of what to do.
“There’s a lot of people writing me emails saying, ‘I want to find help, but there’s no one in this area I can reach out to,’” he says.
As a sleep physician, he wanted to use his expertise to deliver help in an easy-to-digest way to those who might not have access to it. He also liked that he could go in-depth on certain topics he might only have a few minutes to cover with a patient in the clinic.
“When I see a patient, I have a 30-minute visit, and I only have 10 minutes to tell them really what they need to be doing,” he says. “Because of constraints with scheduling, I might see them again in a few weeks. But in those weeks I can’t help them; I can’t support them directly. But with technology, I’m able to have much more frequent contact.”
As his YouTube video has increased in popularity, he’s also added on a podcast. He talks with other experts in the field, answers questions from his fans and explores the insomnia journeys of his listeners — including interviewing people with insomnia.
He says while he’s no YouTube star (yet), as long as the channel is helping people, he will continue to do it.
“If people have a problem, they’ll put it in their search and maybe they’ll come across my videos,” he says. “There’s a huge opportunity to help people here.”