The use digital sleep apps as mainstream medical treatment

Dr Paul Zollinger-Read, the Medical Director of Medical Imaging Partnership and Prime Health reviews the latest guidance from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) who has recently approved the ‘Sleepio’ app as an effective treatment for insomnia.

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recently approved the ‘Sleepio’ app as an effective treatment for insomnia.

What is the National Institute of Clinical Excellence?

NICE is an ‘arms-length’ body that independently reviews the evidence for various medical treatments and then issues guidelines on managing and treating different clinical conditions. NICE guidance is generally accepted as best practice in the UK and globally. Clinicians need to explain if they choose to deviate from its guidance, so NICE approval is a real badge of approval for a digital app.

How do they currently treat insomnia?

The current best practice for insomnia is to initially offer advice on good sleep hygiene, such as developing a sleep routine, not overheating your bedroom, and minimising alcohol and caffeine before bed. If these fail to resolve insomnia, doctors usually prescribe a short 3-7 day course of a hypnotic such as Zopiclone. The problem with this type of drug though is that it can lead to dependence on the drug and continuing poor sleep if taken regularly.

It is now recognised that the gold standard is CBT, but this is very difficult to access on the NHS.

What is the app they are recommending to treat insomnia?

Sleepio uses AI to develop tailored cognitive behavioural treatment (CBT) programmes for individuals suffering from insomnia. It’s web-based and is available on mobile apps.

For £45 per individual, Sleepio provides online CBT tailored to your insomnia. It’s been tested in 12 randomised controlled studies and was found to be better than the routine advice or medication (It’s probably similar to face-to-face CBT in its effectiveness).

The app provides a six-week self-help programme with interactive CBT sessions. The session focuses on ‘flushing out’ those thoughts, behaviours, and feelings which lead to insomnia and helping the individual manage them.

This is a great example where tech is now working as a main-line medical treatment.

Paul Zollinger-Read CBE

Group Medical Director 

The views expressed in the blog are my own personal views and are not intended as medical advice.

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