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Millions of people are to be given access to digital treatment for insomnia as an alternative to sleeping pills. Study by Colin Espie et al shows that Sleepio improves wellbeing in nearly three quarters of participants.

Apply by 10 March for 2017/18 for a PGDip or MSc. The course is also available as CPD modules. It is hosted by the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute (SCNi) in our Department. Shutterstock

The Sleepio app – a cognitive behavioural therapy based programme which can be accessed via smartphone or web - is to be made available initially in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire later this month before being rolled out across other areas in the South East in early 2019. It is the first NHS rollout of direct-access digital medicine - fully automated, self-help programmes, easily accessible via app or web.

We are delighted to see this important research be so rapidly translated to the NHS for clinical benefit. The recognition that sleep is of fundamental importance for our well-being and clinical health is growing and studies such as these that help us understand and tackle current issues we face as a society regarding sleep deficit are vital.

- Professor Irene Tracey, Head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences

Sleepio works by helping people to resolve their persistent sleep problems by discovering their ideal personal sleep pattern, and by overcoming the 'racing mind' that so often prevents people from sleeping. The announcement comes as the largest research trial into the impact of digital cognitive behavioural therapy (dCBT) on adults with insomnia demonstrated the link between better sleep and improved overall health. Published in the latest JAMA Psychiatry, the Oxford University led 12-month UK study showed that dCBT based intervention Sleepio improved overall wellbeing, mental health and quality of life.

The South East NHS roll-out of the Sleepio programme is designed to find the best ways of helping people to access digital medicine through partnering with stakeholders such as GPs, pharmacies, libraries and local employers. It will develop a blueprint for wider uptake of digital medicine across the NHS in England in a bid to improve sleep health whilst reducing the current over-reliance on medication, which is used to treat the estimated 20% of working adults that suffer from chronic sleeplessness.

Clinical guidelines recommend the psychological approach known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for insomnia. However, treatment is currently dominated by medication, which can have unpleasant or harmful side effects. Last year, over 12 million prescriptions for insomnia were written, at a cost to the NHS of £72m - 1 prescription for every GP, every day of the year*. On the other hand Sleepio which is digital CBT has been shown in clinical trials to help over three quarters of insomnia sufferers achieve normal sleep.

'Sleep ranks with air, water and food as one of the essentials of life, yet 10% to 12% of the population don’t get enough of it due to insomnia,' said study lead author Colin Espie, Oxford University Professor of Sleep Medicine and Chief Medical Officer of Big Health. 'Furthermore, most people who seek help with insomnia do so because of its negative impact on their daytime quality of life. Our study suggests that this new form of 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.' This research was supported by the National Institute for Health Research Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.

Sleepio is one of the first digital health applications ever to be reviewed by NICE, and has been supported by the NHS Innovation Accelerator since 2015. Sleepio has now been tested in eight clinical trials, including the largest ever trial of a psychological intervention, significantly improving both sleep and mental health outcomes (Freeman et al. 2017).