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Can a Digital Doctor Help You Sleep?

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: Sep 7th 2017

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THURSDAY, Sept. 7, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- If you've been having trouble getting some sleep, a new online therapy program may help ease your insomnia, a new study says.

The online program also reduced patients' rates of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations, the study found.

"Getting our shut-eye can help improve psychological health. Sleeping well can help shift our blues, reduce our fears, and make us happier," said lead author Daniel Freeman, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford in England.

The online program is called "Sleepio." It's an interactive digital cognitive behavioral therapy program that participants could access online.

The study included more than 3,700 insomnia patients in the United Kingdom. About half were assigned to Sleepio. The others received no treatment and acted as a control group.

The 10-week treatment program involved six sessions of 20 minutes each that featured an animated therapist. The participants also completed daily sleep diaries, which were used by the program to provide personalized advice.

By the end of the program, patients had an average 5-point reduction in insomnia on a 0-32 point scale. They also had a 2-point reduction in paranoia and a 1.5-point reduction in hallucinations, according to the study.

The patients also had improvements in depression, anxiety, psychological well-being, nightmares and perceived functioning, Freeman's team said.

The improvements in mental health symptoms were largely due to improved sleep, suggesting a possible causal role, the researchers said. They said their findings highlight the importance of treating sleep problems in the general population.

The study was published Sept. 6 in The Lancet Psychiatry.

"When it comes to psychological disorders, sleep problems are very much the poor relation. For too long insomnia has been trivialized as merely a symptom, languishing way down in the league table of problems to be tackled," Freeman said in a journal news release.

"However, how well we sleep might actually play a role in our mental health. For many people, insomnia can be part of the complex package of causes of mental health difficulties. If you can sort out your sleep, you could also be taking a significant step forward in tackling a wide range of psychological and emotional problems," Freeman said.

Tea Lallukka, from the University of Helsinki in Finland, and Borge Sivertsen, of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, authored an accompanying editorial. "The findings highlight the potential benefits of the implementation of easily available and low-cost internet therapies for insomnia," they wrote.

"Treatment of insomnia might help reduce the burden of mental ill health and prevent onset of symptoms such as hallucinations and paranoia. The findings add to understanding of the significance of insomnia as a causal factor in mental ill health, and corroborate findings from observational studies or smaller trials," Lallukka and Sivertsen said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on insomnia.