Managing insomnia with an app

An app designed to treat insomnia without the use of medication, only available in Australia via a Flinders University clinical trial, has received an official recommendation from the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

The NICE guidelines provide national guidance and advice to improve health and social care in England. The recent NICE report states the app, Sleepio, is a safe and effective treatment for people suffering from insomnia and could reduce the number of prescriptions for medications such as zolpidem and zopiclone, which can become addictive.

Following the news, Dr Alexander Sweetman from Flinders University’s Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health, is calling on Australian GPs and people with insomnia to get in touch to learn how the app can be accessed in Australia.

“At present, Sleepio is only available in Australia through a clinical trial so it’s important doctors are aware it’s an option and patients can be referred to the program and assisted,” says Dr Sweetman.

“Our previous research has shown that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia (or ‘CBTi’) is the most effective treatment for insomnia and Sleepio is a self-administered version of that.”

Cognitive behavioural therapy works by targeting the underlying psychological, physiological and behavioural causes of insomnia, in contrast to medications, which simply treats the symptoms.

Through the trial, Dr Sweetman is aiming to develop the pathway within the doctors’ central software program, to help GPs identify and refer patients to the specialised digital cognitive behavioural therapy program for insomnia.

Researcher Dr Alexander Sweetman in the sleep lab at the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health at Flinders University.

“Currently the most common treatment for insomnia in Australia is sedative-hypnotic medications, or sleeping pills, which are potentially addictive and not effective over the long-term,” says Dr Sweetman.

“Instead, we have a treatment with cognitive behavioural therapy, proven effective in multiple clinical trials worldwide, we just need to provide GPs with more information, accessible guidelines and tools, as well as referral and treatment options to help them to help their patients manage insomnia.”

Insomnia is a common and debilitating disorder that can impact a person’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. Symptoms include taking a long time to fall asleep, or frequently waking up throughout the night and not feeling rested the following day.

45 GPs are currently participating in the Australian Sleepio trial and have referred 200 patients to Sleepio. The trial will continue offering the app to GPs and patients throughout 2022.

“So far, patients have reported improved insomnia symptoms and around a 40% reduction in sleeping pill use,” says Dr Sweetman.

GPs and patients interested in the trial should contact Dr Alexander Sweetman on alexander.sweetman@flinders.edu.au.

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Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health College of Medicine and Public Health Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute

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