Treating insomnia with digital programs can improve insomnia symptoms, daytime functioning and overall health, a new study has found.
In a year-long study from the University of Oxford and Northwestern Medicine involving 1,711 people, researchers found online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) improved not only insomnia symptoms, but functional health, psychological well-being and sleep-related quality of life.
A major limitation of insomnia treatments is the lack of providers to deliver CBT, but this study used an online platform that made it easily accessible to users. It also automated and tailored the treatment based on the user’s sleep patterns.
Study co-author Jason Ong said there is a four-to-six month wait for an insomnia patient to get an appointment in his sleep clinic.
“We can reach many more patients with insomnia by using a digitally based program,” said Ong, associate professor of neurology in sleep medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Insomnia has been identified as a risk factor for the development of mental health disorders, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
“Sleep ranks with air, water and food as one of the essentials of life, yet 10 to 12 percent of the population doesn’t get enough of it due to insomnia,” said lead study author Colin Espie, Oxford University professor of sleep medicine and chief medical officer of Big Health, a provider of automated and personalized behavioral medicine programs for mental health. “Our study suggests that digital medicine could be a powerful way to help millions of people not just sleep better, but achieve better mental and physical well-being as a result.”
The study provides new evidence that the clinical benefits of digital CBT extend beyond sleep to also improve a person’s daytime functioning.
“Typically, what leads patients to seek treatment is when their insomnia begins to impact their quality of life or daytime functioning,” Ong said. “The fact that we saw improvements in both of these areas shows that the digital program has benefits around the clock.”
Though insomnia has traditionally been treated with pharmaceuticals, new guidelines published in 2016 by the American College of Physicians recommend that CBT be used first-line, ahead of sleeping pills.
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