Sleep Disorders

Updated 04 July 2014

Web-based insomnia therapies show promise

A study indicates that insomnia treatment, delivered through a Web-based programme or video conference may help people feel less tired during the day.

Insomnia treatment that's delivered through a Web-based programme or video conference may help people feel less tired during the day, according to a small study from Canada.

Researchers found over half of people who had chronic insomnia at the start of the study no longer had severe difficulty functioning after receiving therapy through one of those methods.

"I think the biggest takeaway is... cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for insomnia can be delivered effectively in a variety of formats – not just face to face but also using different technologies and even self-directed," Maxine Holmqvist, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health.

She is an assistant professor at University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

Read: insomnia increases death risk

More than one-quarter of people in the US report not getting enough sleep every now and then, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in 10 Americans reports chronic insomnia.

Symptoms and treatment 

Symptoms of chronic insomnia include regularly having trouble falling asleep, waking up too early in the morning and waking up in the middle of the night. This often results in people feeling tired during the day.

One treatment for chronic insomnia is CBT, which consists of therapist-guided sessions that teach people methods to help them get better sleep. Those sessions include lessons about insomnia, relaxation techniques, ignoring stimuli and creating good sleeping habits.

Read: CBT – the facts

Accessibility of treatment

People who live in rural areas may not have access to such therapy, however.

For people without easily accessible treatment, video conferencing (also known as telehealth) is sometimes used in Canada to bring together patients and doctors, write the researchers in the journal Sleep Medicine.

There is also some evidence, they write, that CBT can be delivered through the Internet.

Preventing insomnia

For the new study, the researchers recruited 73 adults living in a rural Canadian province and randomly assigned them to either receive CBT through an Internet-based program or through a group video conference at clinics near their homes.

At the start of the study, all of the participants had insomnia, according to a questionnaire that scores how well a person functions during the day.

Read: 6 ways to prevent insomnia

Treatments show promise

After six CBT sessions delivered over six weeks, the researchers found that 55% of the telehealth group and about 62%of the Web-based treatment group no longer scored high enough on the questionnaire to be considered to have insomnia.

The researchers write that the difference in results between the two delivery methods could have been due to chance. With more people they may be able to say whether one works better than the other.

"Overall, our study suggests that both Web- and telehealth-based treatments of insomnia show promise and are worthy of further development and study," they write.

Read More:

CBT: how therapy works

Therapy best for insomnia

Diagnosis and treatment of insomnia


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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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