The Sleepio app, a digital cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)-based programme that can be accessed via smartphone or the web, is to be made available later this month in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire 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.
The announcement came 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.
The research team from the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, supported by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), led a 12-month study showing that Sleepio improved overall wellbeing, mental health and quality of life.
The study was published on Sunday 30 September 2018 in JAMA Psychiatry.
The Sleepio app 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. One of the main aims is to reduce an over-reliance on medication, which is used to treat the estimated 20 per cent of working adults who suffer from chronic sleeplessness.
Clinical guidelines recommend CBT for insomnia. However, treatment is currently dominated by medication, which can have unpleasant or harmful side effects. Last year, more than 12 million prescriptions were written to deal with insomnia, at a cost to the NHS of £72m.
In clinical trials, a dCBT approach has been shown to help more than 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 per cent 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.”
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.
Professor Irene Tracey, Head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, said: “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.”