The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recommended that a digital app designed to treat insomnia can be prescribed by doctors as an alternative to sleeping pills. The Pharma Times reports that the online programme, known as Sleepio, is an effective treatment for chronic sleeplessness.

Researchers took cognitive behaviour therapy techniques as their starting point to develop the six-week course. It also incorporates AI technology to personalise the content to each patient’s specific needs and behavioural patterns. Although it can be completed in six weeks, patients will have up to a year to access the course.

It is hoped that it can be widely used as an alternative to more costly drugs, such as zopiclone and zolpidem, which have unwanted side effects, and are habit-forming.

The course will help the patient to create a conducive environment for sleep, develop a sleep schedule, and to understand stimulus control. They will be encouraged to recognise and challenge unhelpful thoughts and habits, and to keep a diary to track their symptoms.

Jeanette Kusel, acting director for MedTech and digital at NICE, explained: “Until now people with insomnia have been offered sleeping pills and taught about sleep hygiene, so our committee’s recommendation of Sleepio provides GPs and their patients with a new treatment option.”

Kusel continued: “Our rigorous, transparent and evidence-based analysis has found that Sleepio is cost saving for the NHS compared with usual treatments in primary care. It will also reduce people with insomnia’s reliance on dependence forming drugs such as zolpidem and zopiclone.”

She added: “This is a good example of where a digital health technology can help the NHS. The evidence has shown using Sleepio reduces the number of GP appointments people with insomnia need and will also cut the number of prescriptions for sleeping pills delivered by pharmacists.”

Sky News reports that the app can be used through wearable devices such as an Apple watch or a Fitbit. Sessions can be repeated if necessary, and the patient will have access to a wider library of materials, such as articles and tools, and can partake in an online community for tips and moral support.

Promising clinical results show that the app brought better results for insomnia than sleeping pills. It is hoped that Sleepio will save the NHS significant costs, in terms of GP visits and prescription medications. It is hoped that up to 800,000 patients may benefit from the app.

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder, where people have difficulties getting to sleep, or staying asleep for long enough stretches to provide a refreshing night’s rest. It can be caused by a series of medical conditions, including arthritis, allergies, and chronic pain, and it is also brought on by stress, anxiety and depression.

If left untreated, it can result in worsening mental health, weight gain, poor performance at work, and strains on relationships. People who experience disrupted sleep patterns for at least three nights a week, for up to a continual three month duration, are advised to see a doctor.

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