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Surprising Science

Can’t Sleep? There’s an App for That, Says a New Study

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has shown to dramatically improve insomnia, and a new app can help sufferers help themselves. 

Do you get enough sleep? Most of you would probably say no. For some of us this is because we just want to stay up just a little later than we should, for others it is because of insomnia. While some people find that pills and a strong sleeping routine are enough to keep the insomnia at bay, others are at a loss to find a method that can help them sleep.

We have good news. In a new study, a digital CBT tool was found to dramatically reduce the rate of insomnia among young adults. Not only did they sleep better, their sanity improved too.

Researchers in the UK had 3755 university students receive treatment for insomnia, with half receiving the typical kind of treatment, and the other half being given an online course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) treatment. Participants were placed randomly. This is thought to be the largest randomized study on psychiatric insomnia treatment ever undertaken.

The online course is called Sleepio. Consisting of six twenty-minute sessions, the program has various tools to help encourage relaxation, stimulus control, mindfulness, and sleep restriction (reducing the sleep window to enhance sleep consolidation) among other things. There is also an educational element designed to help the patient learn about good sleep habits presented by an animated shrink.

The results showed that the CBT treatment was much more effective than the typical treatment. Not only did the participants using CBT saw a 62% decline in instances of insomnia but also a small, though noticeable, decrease in instances of paranoia and hallucinations. Previous studies suggest that insomnia can be a catalyst for these minor psychotic symptoms, and the occurrences in the participants here also suggest that insomnia was the mediator of the symptoms. Those who slept better also reported other benefits consistent with a good night’s sleep.

It is noteworthy, however, that there was a high dropout rate among the CBT participants. Only 18% of them attended all 6 online sessions which could be taken at their leisure. While the subjects were replaced as was possible, even the researchers noted the dropout rate was higher than anticipated. Similarly, symptoms were self-reported and the non-clinical nature of the study means that all findings will be most applicable to mild cases.

The potential applications of this study’s findings are tremendous. The treatment used here is psychiatric in nature rather than pharmaceutical. This means that the online course can be used in conjunction with medications or with people who find that sleeping pills just don’t work for them. The digital nature makes it much more accessible for people living in isolated areas or those who just don’t think trouble sleeping is worth going to the doctor about. The connection with mental health symptoms also hints at new ways to help psychiatric patients.

While more studies will have to be done to assure the effectiveness of the treatment for all demographics, the results are promising. A good night’s sleep for all of us might soon be at hand. 


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