Thousands of insomniacs will soon be able to get a life-changing digital sleeping pill on the NHS for the first time.
Patients across three regions in England who find it difficult to sleep can be given a mobile app that has been proven to improve their shut-eye.
It is hoped Sleepio – a cognitive behavioural therapy app – will tackle the growing sleeping pills epidemic that is sweeping the UK.
Figures show more than 12 million prescriptions for insomnia were written in 2017 – costing the NHS around £72 million.
Patients across three regions in England who find it difficult to sleep can be given a mobile app that has been proven to improve their shut-eye
The new app was developed by Colin Espie – a professor of sleep medicine in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the University of Oxford.
Sleepio allows patients to work out how much sleep they require and offers them support in how to put their ‘racing mind’ to rest.
Professor Espie, founder of Big Health, said: ‘This project is critical to demonstrate how digital medicine can offer better quality care to people experiencing insomnia, reduce reliance on medication and enable people to engage in effective self-care.’
The Sleepio project will be rolled out to insomniacs in Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire from this October as part of a £1 million pilot.
Anyone will be able to access the app without needing a prescription or referral from their GP – saving valuable time for both patients and doctors.
It is the first NHS rollout of direct-access digital medicine that are easily accessible through an app or web, Big Health claims.
IS INSOMNIA GENETIC?
Insomnia may be genetic, research suggested last week.
Struggling to nod off is linked to specific mutations on certain chromosomes, a study found.
Researchers also found a genetic link between a lack of shut eye and conditions such as type 2 diabetes and depression.
On the back of the findings, lead author Dr Murray Stein from the University of California, San Diego, said: ‘A better understanding of the molecular bases for insomnia will be critical for the development of new treatments.’
Insomnia affects between 10 and 20 percent of adults in the US.
In the long term, lack of sleep has previously been linked to poor heart health and an increased risk of premature death.
The 28-month project aims to uncover more evidence about the benefits of digital medicine and to reduce the current over-reliance on sleeping pills.
In six clinical trials, Sleepio has been shown to help over three-quarters of insomnia sufferers achieve normal sleep.
Clinical guidelines recommend CBT for insomnia. However, treatment is currently dominated by medication, which can have unpleasant side effects.
James Rose, of the Oxford Academic Health Sciences Network, which will run the project, said: ‘It’s as effective as sleeping drugs at improving sleep.
‘Sleeping pills have a really quite significant impact on people’s quality of life, they are quite dirty drugs, so to be able to give people an option that isn’t medicine, that is able to improve sleep without side-effects, is quite exciting.’
Dr Rose hopes Sleepio will be advised to insomniacs by pharmacists.
He told The Times: ‘Instead of giving out Nytol could they give a web link for Sleepio and say: “This is free in this area, why not try it?”‘
Dr Michael Mulholland, a GP in Buckinghamshire, said ‘In my role as a GP I see the impact of insomnia on people’s’ lives every day.
‘Sleepio offers a real opportunity to transform lives for the better and to reduce reliance on sleeping tablets.
‘This collaboration will explore the potential of digital innovations to improve people’s lives.’