Insomnia is a sleep disorder that causes people to have trouble falling asleep and trouble staying asleep. There are some treatment options available for managing the symptoms of the condition, including medications and therapy. When dealing with mental health issues, including insomnia, not all methods of treatment work for every patient.
Part of creating a treatment plan between a therapist and a patient is determining which avenue has the best potential for the patient. A new online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) model could offer another option for treating insomnia, though, according to a recent study.
The study focused on patients with insomnia around the age of 45, assigning participants to two different therapy groups to determine the effectiveness of the new online treatment model. The 1,700 participants were randomly assigned to either online CBT or sleep hygiene (control group) therapy models. The control group was instructed on healthy sleeping habits, including bedtime routines and limiting the consumption of caffeine and alcohol, which can cause sleep disturbances.
The focus of cognitive behavioral therapy is to deal with the underlying cognitive issues responsible for certain behaviors, such as the sleep disturbances insomnia causes. One of the cognitive focuses of CBT for insomnia is the feeling of one’s mind racing when they are trying to sleep.
The online CBT model used in this study, called Sleepio, allowed participants to access a series of 20-minute therapy sessions through their computer or smartphone. They participated in the therapy models for 12 weeks, with the researchers checking in on their symptoms at the 4, 8, and 24-week marks.
Online CBT More Effective Than Sleep Hygiene
The researchers found that the group of participants who completed the CBT model showed a higher rate of improvement of their insomnia symptoms than the group who had sleep hygiene education. They assessed the participants’ physical health, insomnia symptoms, mental health, and sleep-related quality of life. “This new study indicates that digital CBT can help insomnia sufferers achieve not just better sleep, but better overall health and quality of life,” said lead study author Colin Espie. “It also underscores previous findings that better sleep contributes to better mental health.”
The results of the study demonstrate that online therapy options can help to improve symptoms of certain mental health conditions, compared to standard educational practices. The focus of the research was not on how the online therapy platform measures up against in-person therapy sessions with a licensed professional and because of this, the researchers cannot make any assumptions about whether or not online CBT is a viable replacement for in-person therapy.
“While a fully automated digital solution like Sleepio cannot fully replicate the power of a trusted, face-to-face relationship between a patient and clinician, there are several advantages to the digital format,” Espie said. One such benefit is accessibility for those who live in remote areas or suffer from disabilities with mobility. The online therapy is also available at any time of the day, meaning that patients suffering from insomnia can get help in the middle of the night, when they may need it most.
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