A.I. sleep app may put end to sleeping pills

LONDON: A newly developed artificial intelligence app may be the answer to a good night’s sleep, with claims the application could replace highly-addictive sleeping pills for insomnia sufferers.

Sleepio uses an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to provide individuals with tailored cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).

England’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said the app will play a critical role in treating insomnia in the UK, saving the National Health Service (NHS) money as well as reducing the prescription of addictive medications such as zolpidem and zopiclone.

An economic analysis of the app found that one year of using Sleepio resulted in a reduction in healthcare costs due to fewer appointments with general practitioners and a decreased number of prescriptions for sleeping pills.

For £45 (NZ$87.50) per person, Sleepio provides users with a six-week digital self-help programme, including a sleep test, weekly interactive CBT-I sessions and a digital diary for tracking sleeping patterns and progress. Although the programme is designed to be completed in six weeks, people have full access to its components for 12 months from their registration – allowing users to complete the sessions at their own pace and revisit certain interventions. Participants are also given access to electronic library articles, online tools and an online community for support.

According to the Sleep Foundation, CBT-I focuses on identifying the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that contribute to the symptoms of insomnia.

“CBT-I focuses on exploring the connection between the way we think, the things we do, and how we sleep,” the Foundation said.

“Thoughts and feelings about sleep are examined and tested to see if they’re accurate, while behaviours are examined to determine if they promote sleep. A provider will then clarify or reframe misconceptions and challenges in a way that is more conducive to restful sleep.”

Treatment often takes from six to eight sessions, according to the Sleep Foundation, although the length may differ depending on a person’s needs. CBT-I is often referred to as a multicomponent treatment as it combines several different approaches – sessions may include cognitive, behavioural and psychoeducational interventions. For example, cognitive restructuring attempts to change inaccurate or unhelpful thoughts about sleep, while behavioural interventions may involve relaxation training and stimulus control to promote relaxation and establish healthy sleep habits.

NICE predicted up to 800,000 people could benefit from using Sleepio in England alone.

The daily diary is designed to help users track their progress and all advice offered by the programme is tailored to the individual’s needs. Users can fill in the diary manually or the data can be automatically uploaded from a compatible wearable device, such as an Apple Watch or Fitbit.

Clinical evidence presented to NICE’s medical technologies advisory committee from 12 randomised controlled trials indicated that Sleepio is more effective at treating the condition than sleep hygiene and sleeping pills, Sky News reported.

Jeanette Kusel, the acting director for MedTech and digital at NICE, said “rigorous, transparent and evidence-based analysis” had found Sleepio saved the NHS money and reduced reliance on dependence-forming drugs.

“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 said.

The independent committee has recommended that a medical assessment should be completed before referral to Sleepio during pregnancy and in those with multiple conditions. It has also recommended more research be carried out to compare Sleepio’s efficacy with face-to-face CBT-I.