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Doctors in England now have a prescription alternative for insomnia patients

By Katie Hunt, CNN

Searching for a better night’s sleep? A digital app to treat insomnia is an effective alternative to sleeping pills, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the United Kingdom.

The recommendation from NICE last week means that doctors in the UK’s National Health Service can prescribe the Sleepio app, which uses artificial intelligence to provide people with cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia instead of sleep medications like zolpidem and zopiclone that can be dependency forming and aren’t intended for long-term use.

Up to 800,000 people could benefit from using Sleepio in England, NICE said. The app provides a digital six-week self-help program involving a sleep test, weekly interactive CBT-I sessions and keeping a diary about sleep patterns.

The institute said that the app-based program, which costs NHS £45 ($56) per person, was more cost effective for the health care system because, based on a year of use, it led to fewer doctor’s appointments and prescriptions of sleeping pills.

“Our rigorous, transparent and evidence-based analysis has found that Sleepio is cost saving for the NHS in primary care compared with sleeping pills and sleep hygiene. It will also reduce people with insomnia’s reliance on dependence forming drugs such as zolpidem and zopiclone,” said Jeanette Kusel, acting director for MedTech and digital at NICE, in a statement.

Twelve randomized controlled trials, the gold standard for medical research, showed that Sleepio is more effective at reducing insomnia than sleep hygiene and sleeping pills, the statement said.

Sleep hygiene refers to the ways you can help your brain to recognize it’s time to fall asleep and then stay asleep. These strategies include things like maintaining a regular routine, sleeping in a dark, quiet, cool room, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine late in the day.

The Sleepio program is designed to be completed in six weeks, but people have full access for 12 months from when they start using the app. This accessibility allows people to complete sessions at their own pace and revisit sessions if they wish, NICE said.

The sessions focus on identifying thoughts, feelings and behavior that contribute to the symptoms of insomnia. Cognitive interventions aim to improve the way a person thinks about sleep and the behavioral interventions are designed to promote a healthy sleep routine.

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