Using the Internet to get a good night’s sleep

Online treatments for insomnia can be effective, studies suggest

Using web-based programs to treat patients with insomnia might be possible, according to two new studies, including one from Canada. “Fifteen years ago, people would have thought it was crazy to get therapy remotely,” Bruce Wampold, a professor of counselling psychology at the University of Wisconsin, told the New York Times. “But as we do more and more things electronically, including have social relationships, more therapists have come to believe that this can be an effective way to deliver services to some people.” In the Virginia study, which lasted nine weeks, patients were advised to get out of bed if they couldn’t fall asleep after 15 minutes. They entered several weeks of sleep diaries; the program calculated a window of time during which they were allowed to sleep. Patients then limited the time they spent in bed to the hours they’ve actually been sleeping, with the goal of consolidating sleep and then expanding its duration, the same technique that’s used when treating patients in person. The program also used readings, vignettes, animation and interactive exercises to deal with problems that interfere with sleep, like anxious thoughts. In the study, patients’ sleep efficiency (which measures the amount of time spent asleep compared to the time in bed) improved by 16 per cent; nighttime wakefulness decreased by 55 per cent, outcomes dubbed “almost unbelievable” by Jack Edinger, a psychologist at Duke University Medical Center. The Canadian study, from the University of Manitoba, tested a five-week program that emphasized sleep restriction as well. Patients controlled negative thoughts and avoided stimuli like light and noise in the bedroom. Thirty-five per cent of those who completed the program said their insomnia improved. “I liked that it was over the Internet,” said one participant, Kelly Lawrence, 51, of Winnipeg, “because when you don’t get your sleep you don’t want to have to get up and go to appointments. You don’t want to be out there on the roads.”

The New York Times