App replaces sleeping pills for insomniacs

Katelyn CatanzaritiAAP
It's thought about one in 10 Australians have at least mild insomnia at any given time.
Camera IconIt's thought about one in 10 Australians have at least mild insomnia at any given time. Credit: EPA

Insomnia patients should ditch the drugs and sign up to an Australian-designed app to help them improve their sleep patterns.

That's according to Britain's National Health Service (NHS), which has recommended Sleepio as a safe and effective sleep therapy treatment - and an alternative to addictive medications like zolpidem and zopiclone.

While not yet available to all Australians, people who find it difficult to stay or fall asleep are being urged to ask their GPs about joining a clinical trial that uses the specialised digital therapy program, available through Flinders University.

"Our previous research has shown that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia (or 'CBTi') is the most effective treatment for insomnia and Sleepio is a self-administered version of that," says Flinders' Dr Alexander Sweetman from the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health.

"At present, Sleepio is only available in Australia through a clinical trial so it's important doctors are aware it's an option and patients can be referred to the program and assisted."

At the moment 45 GPs are participating in the Australian Sleepio trial and 200 patients have been referred.

"So far, patients have reported improved insomnia symptoms and around a 40 per cent reduction in sleeping pill use," says Dr Sweetman.

The medications most commonly prescribed in Australia for insomnia are sedative-hypnotic medications - or sleeping pills - which are potentially addictive and become ineffective over time, he says.

Cognitive behaviour therapy attempts to target the underlying psychological, physiological and behavioural causes of insomnia, rather than treating symptoms with prescription drugs.

Most Australians experience insomnia at some point in their lives, according to government funded service healthdirect.

About one in 10 have at least mild insomnia at any given time and the condition is more common in women and the elderly.

Insomnia can include difficulty getting to sleep, waking during the night and having trouble going back to sleep, and waking too early.

Sometimes people experience all three.

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