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UK Study Proves Value of mHealth Therapy in Insomnia Treatment

An Oxford University study has found that patients suffering from insomnia improved their sleep habits, functional health and overall well-being through the use of an mHealth app and online therapy program.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- A study conducted by the UK’s University of Oxford has found that people suffering from insomnia can improve their sleep patterns, brain function and psychological well-being through the use of mHealth.

As reported in JAMA Psychiatry, the study, conducted in 2016 and involving some 1,700 participants, compared traditional insomnia treatment – sleep hygiene education - with digital cognitive behavioral therapy (dCBT), delivered through an mHealth app. The dCBT platform offers 20-minute online therapy sessions that users can access at any time for 12 weeks.

Participants were surveyed at the beginning of the treatment, then at four, eight and 24 weeks. Primary outcomes were scores on self-reported measures of functional health psychological well-being and sleep-related quality of life, while secondary outcomes focused on mood, fatigue, sleepiness, cognitive failures, work productivity and relationship satisfaction.

According to researchers, those using the mHealth app “significantly improved insomnia symptoms, functional health, psychological well-being 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,” lead author Colin A. Espie, PhD, a researcher with Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and co-founder of Big Health, which created the Sleepio app used in the study, told Reuters.

“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,” he added.

mHealth advocates say digital health tools – including online programs, wearables and apps – can be accessed by users at any time, giving them the opportunity to seek treatment when they need it the most. In addition, mHealth platforms give providers the opportunity to collect patient data, such as activity, diet, medication use and mental health, that might offer clues to why the patient is having sleep problems.

On this side of the Atlantic, researchers at the Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Institute have partnered with the National Sleep Foundation on a study to track participants through their Fitbits.

“The primary objective of the study is to determine if a program using a commercially available sleep tracker can be used to improve physician-patient dialogue regarding sleep,” Babar A. Khan, MD, a research scientist at the Indiana University Center for Aging Research at Regenstrief Institute and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, said in a press release issued earlier this year.

“This study will provide insight into the utility of consumer sleep monitoring devices for the incorporation of sleep as a vital sign in the primary care setting,” added Michael Paskow, MPH, the NSF’s Director of Scientific Affairs and Research. “Delivering relevant sleep information to providers in a streamlined fashion is paramount to encouraging communication about sleep and helping people get a better night's sleep sooner.”

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