Thousands usually prescribed sleeping pills could be offered app-based treatment

NICE has recommended Sleepio as an effective alternative to sleeping pills. The move would save the NHS money as well as reducing prescriptions of medicines such as zolpidem and zopiclone, which can be dependency-forming.

Sleepio is a six-week online programme designed by sleep experts based on cognitive and behavioural techniques. The app focuses on sleep restriction, stimulus control, cognitive tools and features a sleep hygiene review.

Up to 800,000 people in England could benefit from using the app, which utilises an AI algorithm to provide users with tailored digital cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).

Jeanette Kusel, acting director for MedTech and digital at NICE, explained: “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.”

The app provides a sleep test, weekly interactive CBT-I sessions and allows users to keep a diary tracking their sleeping patterns. Meanwhile, CBT-I sessions 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 aspire to a healthy sleep routine.

Kusel continued: “Our rigorous, transparent and evidence-based analysis has found that Sleepio is cost saving for the NHS compared with usual treatments in primary care. It will also reduce people with insomnia’s reliance on dependence forming drugs such as zolpidem and zopiclone.”

“This is a good example of where a digital health technology can help the NHS. The evidence has shown using Sleepio reduces the number of GP appointments people with insomnia need and will also cut the number of prescriptions for sleeping pills delivered by pharmacists,” she added.