MAR 29, 2018 6:09 AM PDT

Insomnia: There's An App For That

There is nothing worse than spending a night tossing and turning, not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep. The body needs rest in order for cells to regenerate, muscles to grow and memories to form in the brain.

When we don't get enough sleep, the immune system is impacted, stress levels rise, and health problems can be the result. Long-term sleep deprivation is a factor in anxiety, depression and even dementia. 

There are prescriptions medications to treat insomnia, but they are designed to temporarily help patients sleep. Using them for an extended period is not advised as they can affect memory and many become dependent on them, setting off other health issues. In the United Kingdom, approximately 12 million prescriptions for sleep aids were handed out last year. In response to the problem, an app that's being called a "digital sleeping pill" is available through the NHS to help insomniacs get a good night's sleep. It's called Sleepio, and it uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to combat sleepless nights.

CBT which is used to treat depression and anxiety, as well as insomnia, involves learning cognitive techniques to address thoughts and behaviors that are disrupted because of sleep issues or other mental health conditions. For those who have trouble sleeping, the ‘racing mind' is often described, where patients cannot stop the flow of thoughts and worry, and this keeps them awake. Sleepio offers strategies for users to thwart those thoughts and reset their sleep patterns in a drug-free way. 

The app has been thoroughly researched in several studies. In one, 68% of patients who used the app to deal with depression and anxiety, which were the cause of their insomnia, moved on to recover from their illness. Goals set by the NHS for reaching recovery in mental illnesses like depression and anxiety via their Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) program were only effective in about 45% of patients. Cost is also a factor. The app costs about a third of what six visits with a therapist would and in most patients, more than six sessions would be necessary. 

Patients who use the app, are guided through weekly sessions that are interactive and personalized. An avatar, The Prof, is a virtual sleep expert and he even has a sidekick, a dog named Pavlov who has narcolepsy. In the Thames Valley area of England, including Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire, a grant will allow residents there to have free access to Sleepio as part of a 28-month trial. 

It's the first time that direct access digital medicine, a growing trend in healthcare, will be rolled out without requiring a doctor's visit or prescription. The rollout is a partnership between Big Health a digital medicine company and Oxford Academic Health Science Network (AHSN). Dr. Michael Mulholland is a Buckinghamshire GP and the Clinical Lead for this project and explained, "In my role as a GP I see the impact of insomnia on people's' lives every day. Sleepio offers a real opportunity to transform lives for the better and to reduce reliance on sleeping tablets. This collaboration will explore the potential of digital innovations to improve people's lives." Check out the video to learn more.

Sources: Men’s Health, Big Health, NHS Innovation Accelerator

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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