New app tackles insomnia and depression in young people
Published: 28 May, 2019
Young people and sleep? They can be rare bedfellows for teenagers – but a new app from is showing promising signs for adolescents with symptoms of insomnia or who have difficulty sleeping.
“The research showed that insomnia symptoms improved significantly from baseline to post-study, and participants also self-reported improvements in sleep quality,” says Dr Aliza Werner-Seidler, the project’s Chief Investigator, Clinical Psychologist and Senior Research Fellow at the Black Dog Institute.
“Insomnia and depression are highly related, so improving sleep can reduce mental health symptoms. What the study showed was that app use was associated with improved sleep, as well as reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.”
Sleep Ninja is based on cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), the gold standard treatment for insomnia, and contributes to a growing body of evidence that supports digitally-delivered CBT-I. The study is the first to evaluate app-based CBT-I to treat insomnia in young people.
“CBT-I has mostly been researched as a face-to-face therapy. One of the novel things about this study is looking to see whether a completely automated version of CBT-I can work,” said Werner-Seidler.
The app includes six training sessions, a sleep-tracking function, recommended bedtimes based on sleep guidelines, reminders to start a wind-down routine each night, and tips and general information about sleep. It’s fully automated, with content delivered through a chat-bot format, allowing the app to act as a personal sleep coach.
“Core strategies in the app were psychoeducation, stimulus control, sleep hygiene and sleep-focused cognitive therapy. There was also a focus on consistent sleep and wake-up times,” Werner-Seidler said.
“The app is not designed to be used before bed, which is important given that we know young people’s phone usage can have a negative impact on sleep. While there are inbuilt features that remind people to go to bed at the right time, the app has no other night time functionality.”
The promising results from the pilot study are now paving the way for a larger trial that will test the Sleep Ninja intervention amongst a larger group of adolescents experiencing mild to moderate sleep difficulties.
As well as validating the sleep and mental health findings from the pilot study, the trial will also examine the impact of the Sleep Ninja app on general functioning outcomes, such as energy levels during the day, fatigue and general overall health.
The trial will target adolescents aged 12-16 years who have symptoms of insomnia, regardless of whether they meet formal diagnostic criteria for a sleep disorder.
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