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Digital sleep improvement programme

15th August 2016

Posted By Paul Boughton


A new peer-reviewed clinical study reveals that 68% of patients with mild to moderate depression and anxiety experienced a reduction in symptoms following treatment from digital Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) programme Sleepio. The evaluation was conducted at Self Help Manchester, part of the NHS, Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service, which aims to increase the availability of evidence-based mental health provision.

The moving to recovery rate of 68%, compared to an average 45% rate for NHS IAPT services as a whole, demonstrates that digital CBT for insomnia can be an effective way of improving symptoms of anxiety and depression. Given that between 60%-70% of anxiety and depression patients also suffer from insomnia, these findings suggest that sleep could represent a destigmatised “Trojan horse” to address problems like anxiety and depression in the population at large.  

Sleepio, Big Health’s first product, is a digital sleep improvement programme clinically proven to improve even long term poor sleep without pills or potions. Co-founded by Peter Hames (an NHS Innovation Fellow) and Professor Colin Espie (University of Oxford), digital medicine company Big Health’s goal is to provide evidence-based, non-drug solutions to mental health issues, making them as scalable and accessible as pharmaceuticals. Sleepio is featured on NHS choices website as part of its online mental health services.

Peter Hames, co-founder of Big Health and NHS Innovation Fellow commented: “Sleepio empowers patients to overcome their poor sleep by providing personalised, evidence-based CBT techniques and support. Whilst the link between insomnia and depression and anxiety is well documented, it’s incredible to see a digital solution designed to manage insomnia having such a marked effect on patients’ anxiety and depression symptoms too. These results raise the exciting prospect of using sleep as a destigmatised ‘way in’ to help the millions with anxiety and depression who don’t currently seek help.”

Professor Colin Espie, of University of Oxford and co-founder of Big Health added: "Traditional CBT revolves around face-to-face sessions between patient and therapist. Delivering CBT through digital channels is less resource-intensive, letting patients access treatment regularly at any time and place, and also enables the treatment to be standardised and measurable. Digital CBT can also be delivered at scale, which gives it the potential to help millions of people around the world who suffer from insomnia, anxiety and depression and may not have access to traditional treatments. Not everyone can easily access face-to-face therapy, and a digital approach also provides flexibility to develop services that make best use of clinician time.”

Professor Alice Gregory, Goldsmiths, University of London also commented: “As researchers of mental health our ultimate aim is to reduce suffering. We want to know how best to prevent and treat psychiatric disorders. Big Health’s latest study excites me because not only does it support the idea that improving sleep is a sensible way forward to improving anxiety and depression; but it seems that we can deliver treatment online, which has the incredible potential to reach people suffering worldwide. Poor sleep has been linked to most psychiatric disorders investigated to date – so future work needs to establish the extent to which CBT could also help reduce some of these other difficulties and improve well-being around the world.”

Big Health currently works with companies such as Comcast, LinkedIn, Boston Medical Center, and the Henry Ford Health System to provide Sleepio as a health benefit to employees with the aim of improving wellbeing.

In the world’s first placebo-group randomised controlled trial (RCT) for a digital sleep program, published in the journal SLEEP in 2012, Sleepio was shown to have a comparable effect to in-person CBT, with 76% of insomnia sufferers achieving healthy sleep.





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