We took a few minutes to ask Dr. Ong about sleep and how a behavioral approach can improve long-term outcomes.
When did you become interested in sleep?
I was interested in sleep at an early age — I wrote an essay on insomnia for my 9th grade biology class and, interestingly, it focused on behavioral treatment. I’ve also personally experienced issues with insomnia and insufficient sleep. In high school I would go to bed late — around 2 am — and get up at 7 am, like your typical teenager. In college, I started having more trouble falling asleep, so I do have firsthand experience with insomnia that helps me relate to patients.
What attracted you to a career in sleep health?
I became a clinical psychologist with a specialty in behavioral medicine because I’ve always been interested in the connection between the mind and body. I think that sleep is such a good example of this connection because it’s a biological state heavily influenced by behavior and it has strong connections with emotional well-being. And behavioral treatments for insomnia are very effective and the results can be achieved in just a few weeks. Working in behavioral sleep medicine is so gratifying because you can actually see the positive impact on people’s lives. I had a patient who recently set up an appointment with me just to say “thank you” for treating him.
I also enjoy the multidisciplinary approach to sleep treatment. Because sleep is a state that draws on different systems, not just one organ, it requires specialists like neurologists, pulmonologists, internal medicine physicians and nurses. I thrive in situations where a team comes together, everyone bringing a different background and expertise.
What attracted you to the SleepCharge Program?
I’ve spent most of my career in academia, which I enjoyed, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work in the industry, which is more fast-paced. I’ll be able to put my clinical experience into action and apply scalable interventions to help more patients. Nox Health (the company that offers SleepCharge) is rapidly growing, so I’m really excited to use my skills to help the company grow. And, as I mentioned, I really enjoy a team environment and that’s the model here.
How can a behavioral health model improve care for SleepCharge patients?
We’re looking at a variety of ways to improve the patient’s experience with sleep treatment. I’ll be working with the care team on ways we can improve adherence to PAP therapy for sleep apnea patients. I’ll be working with the user experience team to incorporate more behavioral health strategies into the app. And we’ll be looking at different levels of care for insomnia and developing more personalized treatment models based on the needs of the patient, balancing technology with human interaction.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I have an almost 4-year-old and a 21-month-old, so I don’t have much free time! But back when I did, I was a big sports fan, and my secret dream job was to coach an NFL or NBA team. I grew up playing sports and I was the underdog in terms of size and strength so I became more interested in strategy. I enjoy reading biographies of professional coaches, so maybe I can pick up some pointers for my future career as a Little League coach.
Photo by Nox Health