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STUDY OBJECTIVES: The internet provides a pervasive milieu for healthcare delivery. The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of a novel web-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) course delivered by an automated virtual therapist, when compared with a credible placebo; an approach required because web products may be intrinsically engaging, and vulnerable to placebo response. DESIGN: Randomized, placebo-controlled trial comprising 3 arms: CBT, imagery relief therapy (IRT: placebo), treatment as usual (TAU). SETTING: Online community of participants in the UK. PARTICIPANTS: One hundred sixty-four adults (120 F: [mean age 49y (18-78y)] meeting proposed DSM-5 criteria for Insomnia Disorder, randomly assigned to CBT (n = 55; 40 F), IRT placebo (n = 55; 42 F) or TAU (n = 54; 38 F). INTERVENTIONS: CBT and IRT each comprised 6 online sessions delivered by an animated personal therapist, with automated web and email support. Participants also had access to a video library/back catalogue of session content and Wikipedia style articles. Online CBT users had access to a moderated social network/community of users. TAU comprised no restrictions on usual care and access to an online sleep diary. MEASUREMENTS AND RESULTS: Major assessments at baseline, post-treatment, and at follow-up 8-weeks post-treatment; outcomes appraised by online sleep diaries and clinical status. On the primary endpoint of sleep efficiency (SE; total time asleep expressed as a percentage of the total time spent in bed), online CBT was associated with sustained improvement at post-treatment (+20%) relative to both TAU (+6%; d = 0.95) and IRT (+6%: d = 1.06), and at 8 weeks (+20%) relative to IRT (+7%: d = 1.00) and TAU (+9%: d = 0.69) These findings were mirrored across a range of sleep diary measures. Clinical benefits of CBT were evidenced by modest superiority over placebo on daytime outcomes (d = 0.23-0.37) and by substantial improved sleep-wake functioning on the Sleep Condition Indicator (range of d = 0.77-1.20). Three-quarters of CBT participants (76% [CBT] vs. 29% [IRT] and 18% [TAU]) completed treatment with SE > 80%, more than half (55% [CBT] vs. 17% [IRT] and 8% [TAU]) with SE > 85%, and over one-third (38% [CBT] vs. 6% [IRT] and 0% [TAU]) with SE > 90%; these improvements were largely maintained during follow-up. CONCLUSION: CBT delivered using a media-rich web application with automated support and a community forum is effective in improving the sleep and associated daytime functioning of adults with insomnia disorder. CLINICAL TRIAL REGISTRATION: ISRCTN - 44615689.

Original publication

DOI

10.5665/sleep.1872

Type

Journal article

Journal

Sleep

Publication Date

01/06/2012

Volume

35

Pages

769 - 781

Keywords

Insomnia, Sleep, animated, app, application, automated, internet, online, psychological intervention, psychological treatment, rich media, sleep, treatment, virtual, web, Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Cognitive Therapy, Female, Humans, Imagery (Psychotherapy), Internet, Male, Middle Aged, Patient Compliance, Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders, Treatment Outcome, Young Adult