New online treatment for insomnia

Friday 13 March 2015

A person face-down in bed holds their head under a pillow.

Australian researchers have developed a unique online treatment program for people with insomnia, which is currently being trialled nationwide.

The program, Sleep-e, is a collaborative project involving Swinburne University of Technology, Federation University Australia, Cairnmiller Institute and Austin Health.

Dr Jo-Anne Abbott from Swinburne’s National eTherapy Centre (NeTC) said the program will help to make sleep treatment more accessible, low-cost and engaging.

“Online interventions can reduce the impact of insomnia on the health system because they can be made accessible to many, can allow people to self-manage their own health care and can also be very cost effective,” Dr Abbott said.

Sleeping problems are common, with one in three adults experiencing difficulties falling or staying asleep.

“Most of us have had a bad night’s sleep, where we struggle to fall asleep or wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep,” Dr Abbott said.

Insomnia is diagnosed when these sleeping difficulties occur several times a week for three months or more. Three per cent of the Australian population have a clinical diagnosis of insomnia.

“Insomnia affects the mental and physical health of sufferers, causing distress, difficulties doing daily activities and an increased risk of accidents,” Dr Abbott said.

There is an effective long-term treatment for insomnia known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) but less than 15 per cent of adults with insomnia receive CBT.

“CBT is difficult to teach in short medical consultations and there is a shortage of specialists for GPs to refer patients to for treatment,” Dr Abbott said.

Sleep-e is a seven week program that provides CBT for insomnia via the internet. The program helps people to practise good sleep hygiene habits, change unhelpful sleeping patterns and reduce the worry that can contribute to insomnia, helping them to get a better night’s sleep.

Swinburne staff and students have also developed a free mobile app to help people relax and improve their sleep.

“It seems counterintuitive to use a phone to help you get to sleep, but the app was designed to be used throughout the day,” said Alex Lopez, Swinburne research fellow.

The app offers relaxation exercises to help you sleep by reducing physical tension and worry and provides notifications to help you keep track of your progress.

Both the treatment program and the app are in the trail phase and anyone interested in participating can visit:

https://www.mentalhealthonline.org.au/pages/useful-resources/participate-in-research or email: sleep-e@mentalhealthonline.org.au