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Web-based program for insomnia effective in clinical trial

Patients using a web-based cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) program for insomnia showed significant improvements in sleep symptoms in a recent clinical trial.

CBT is currently the recommended treatment for insomnia. Research has shown it to be effective, and its benefits tend to last longer than medication, with fewer side-effects. However, access to CBT with a therapist can be limited by cost and availability. This study, led by Lee Ritterbrand, PhD, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville, looked at the effectiveness of an online CBT program with the potential to break down those barriers.

The study included 218 women and 85 men with insomnia. Half of the group was randomly assigned to a six-week interactive, tailored online CBT program called SHUTi (Sleep Healthy Using The Internet). The other half were randomly assigned to a patient information website about insomnia that was not interactive or tailored.

Severity of insomnia, sleep latency (how long it took to fall asleep) and waketime after initially falling asleep were assessed after nine weeks, after six months and after one year. The patients who did the online CBT program showed significant improvements in all three categories compared to the patients who just got the patient information package.

The CBT patients also had better sleep efficiency and sleep quality, and fewer awakenings compared to the other group.

In the CBT group, about 53 per cent of patients had responded to treatment at the nine-week assessment, 60 per cent had responded by six months and 70 per cent were treatment responders at one year. These results are significantly higher than the information group, in which 17 per cent had responded to treatment at nine weeks, 36 per cent had responded at six months, and 43 per cent were treatment responders at one year.

The study authors concluded that tailored, web-based CBT is effective for insomnia, and could make treatment much more accessible, and available to many more people.

The study was published online in JAMA Psychiatry on Nov. 30, 2016.

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital