GPs can now prescribe an app instead of sleeping pills for insomnia

An app could be used to replace sleeping pills for people suffering with insomnia.

‘Sleepio’ offers a digital six-week treatment programme using an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm.

The proposed app would provide individuals with tailored cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).

This alternative approach is expected to save the NHS money as well as reduce the prescription of medicines such as zolpidem and zopiclone, which can be dependency forming.

The app which costs £45 per person, provides a digital self-help programme involving a sleep test, weekly interactive CBT-I sessions and a sleep diary.

The CBT-I sessions will focus on identifying thoughts, feelings and behaviours that contribute to the symptoms of insomnia.

Cognitive interventions aim to improve the way a person thinks about sleep and the behavioural interventions aim to promote a healthy sleep routine.

The programme is designed to be completed in six weeks, but people have full access to it for 12 months from registration, so people can complete sessions at their own pace.

People can use the app’s daily sleep diary to track their progress based on which the programme provides tailored advice.

Users can fill in the diary manually or the data can be automatically uploaded from a compatible wearable tracking device, like an Apple watch or Fitbit.

Patients can also access electronic library articles, online tools and join the online Sleepio user community for support.

Clinical evidence presented to The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s (NICE) from 12 randomised controlled trials showed that Sleepio was more effective at reducing insomnia than sleep hygiene and sleeping pills.

Nice predicts that up to 800,000 people could benefit from using Sleepio in England.

An economic analysis also found that one year of using Sleepio lowered healthcare cots, mostly because of fewer GP appointments and sleeping pills prescribed.

‘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,’ said Jeanette Kusel, acting director for MedTech and digital at Nice.

By analysing data from nine GP practices, before and after Sleepio was introduced, Nice said that the app was cost-saving compared with usual treatment in primary care.

The Nice committee has recommended a medical assessment should be done before referral to Sleepio during pregnancy and in people with comorbidities.

It has also recommended more research or data collection to show how effective Sleepio is compared with face-to-face CBT-I.

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