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The effects of the digital therapeutic Sleepio (a digital sleep programme) may extend to depressive symptoms, according to new research published in the Journal of Sleep Research.

In the largest ever study examining the effects of a fully-automated digital sleep improvement programme based on cognitive behavioural techniques (Sleepio) on insomnia and depressive symptoms, researchers found that use of Sleepio improved not only insomnia symptoms, but also depressive symptoms in individuals with insomnia and clinically significant depressive symptoms. Further analyses revealed a significant proportion of the improvements in depressive symptoms were caused by the improvements in sleep.

The study included 3,352 participants and was a sub-analysis of data from two large effectiveness trials of Sleepio. The original trials investigated the effects of Sleepio on physical health and functioning and on mental health, respectively. In each case, study participants received digital cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) using Big Health’s Sleepio programme.

Commenting on the findings, lead researcher and Research Manager at Big Health, Dr Alasdair Henry, said:

“Our study suggests that evidence-based digital therapeutics for sleep could be a powerful way to help millions of people not just sleep better, but also improve their depressive symptoms.

"In clinical studies, Sleepio has repeatedly achieved statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvements in sleep and mental health. Our latest results indicate that Sleepio can be an effective way to help those experiencing insomnia and clinically significant depressive symptoms achieve better outcomes over the long term through evidence-based cognitive and behavioural techniques.”

Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford, Daniel Freeman, added:

“Depressive symptoms can be associated with significant stigma, which can prevent people from seeking help. These results show that addressing sleep may be an effective option for improving depressive symptoms, potentially providing a less stigmatized route to addressing broader mental health.

“Digital programmes like Sleepio overcome many of the barriers associated with accessing other forms of evidence-based care and it certainly increases people’s options. It could help in filling the enormous gap that currently exists in access to mental health care around the globe, and is particularly urgent during the current pandemic, when even access to routine care is disrupted.”

To read the full paper, Insomnia as a mediating therapeutic target for depressive symptoms: A sub-analysis of participant data from two large randomized controlled trials of a digital sleep intervention.

To read the full press release.