Internet Program Helping Insomniacs Get Some Zzzs

A five-week online program can help some people with insomnia get a better night's sleep, according to a new report.

Nearly 1 in 10 people suffer from insomnia, Dr. Norah Vincent and Samantha Lewycky of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg point out in the journal Sleep, and while effective treatment is available, most people don't seek it out.

They developed an online program for treating insomnia based on scientifically proven approaches, including information on sleep hygiene and relaxation therapy, and randomly assigned 118 people with chronic insomnia to the program or to a waiting list, to serve as a comparison "control" group.

Overall, a third of study participants dropped out before the end of the study. Half of those who had been referred by their doctors dropped out, compared to 18 percent of people who had responded to a newspaper advertisement for the study. "It is possible that these individuals share higher levels of pre-treatment motivation, are more comfortable with technology, and/or have different expectations about appropriate treatment of their sleep disorder," Vincent and Lewycky say.

Among the 40 people who completed the program, 35 percent said their symptoms were "much or very much improved," 46 percent said they had "minimally improved," 16 percent said their symptoms hadn't changed, and one person self-rated as worse.

By comparison, in the control group, 61 percent reported no change and 30 percent said they'd seen minimal improvement, while one person reported getting much better and another self-rated as much worse.

While none of the people in the completed treatment group were sleeping normally at the study's outset, about a quarter were after completing the program; 40 percent saw a 10 percent or greater improvement in time spent asleep, and 30 percent were getting an additional hour of sleep, the researchers found.

They conclude that online treatment may be an effective treatment for some people with chronic insomnia, and that future research should investigate who will benefit.